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BC Education Change


Aboriginal ways of knowing

Whether or not it has been acknowledged by the Eurocentric mainstream, Aboriginal knowledge has always existed. Eurocentric thought only values European ways of knowing and has a negative view based on seeing Aboriginal peoples as frozen in time, guided by knowledge systems that reinforce the past and do not look toward the future.

Aboriginal peoples have been viewed as backward and as passive recipients of European knowledge. Aboriginal knowledge became invisible to Eurocentric knowledge, to its development theories, and to its global science. Consequently, Aboriginal knowledge has not been captured and stored in a systematic way by Eurocentric educational systems.

Throughout the past century, the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) has made significant strides to take responsibility and lead the way for teachers by addressing the impacts of the aggressive assimilation policies of the Canadian government and churches that Aboriginal families suffered and continue to suffer from.   

The task for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal teachers will be to undo over a hundred years of racism. The holistic paradigm of Aboriginal knowledge will be a sustaining force because of the richness of Aboriginal languages, worldviews, teachings, and experiences.

For many years, the BCTF pushed for inclusion of Aboriginal content and knowledge throughout the K‒12 curriculum. It is encouraging to see that the Ministry of Education is now responsive to this. However, concerns remain that teachers do not have access to accurate, up-to-date, and culturally relevant teaching materials and in-service that is reflective of local First Nations communities. The BCTF will continue to advocate in this area. It is also important that members continue to advocate for local resources given the incredible diversity of First Nations peoples in BC. This is a process that will take time to develop the depth and breadth of resources needed. Members are encouraged to begin, though, with the resources that they have. Members are also encouraged to share locally developed materials on TeachBC.

As a reflection of the commitment of the BCTF to recognition of Aboriginal ways of knowing, it houses the BC branch for Project of Heart. Teachers can access this and other high-quality lessons and workshops that support Aboriginal values:

Project of Heart 
Project of Heart ebook 
BCTF workshops 
Aboriginal Education Association 

Additionally, the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) has released three excellent new residential school teaching resources for Grade 5, Grade 10, and Grade 11‒12. These can be downloaded for free to support teaching of the new curriculum. 

BCTF members are also encouraged to read and discuss the full set of recommendations from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission.

Applied design, skills, and technology

Previously stand-alone courses have been bundled and renamed “applied design, skills, and technology.” This will also be a new curriculum area for the elementary grades.

One of the concerns in this area is the availability of resources, space in school facilities, and support for teachers―particularly in the elementary grades. Because this curriculum document is only in its draft form, the Federation’s position is that it should not be fully implemented in the 2016‒17 school year.

The following summary provided by the Ministry of Education captures the province’s intent by grade levels:

  • K‒5 foundation—Students can develop the foundations in applied design, skills, and technology within the context of existing curricula. There would be no provincial curriculum, and no requirement to communicate student learning for applied design, skills, and technology K‒5. The intent would be that teachers provide opportunities for hands-on work and skill-building, and communicate student learning in the context of existing curricular areas. In the early years this would be developed through play; in later years they would develop practical and real-life focus based on wanting to explore how things work. It is important at this stage that practices are developmentally appropriate.
  • Grade 6‒9 explorations—A new curriculum, applied design, skills, and technology 6‒9, would be developed. It would be one curriculum that encompassed the four existing applied design, skills, and technology domains (business education, home economics, information technology, and technology education), but written in broad terms so that it is not limited to those areas. Such a curriculum would provide provincial recognition of existing locally developed middle-years programs, and provide a template for the development of additional local programs.
  • Grades 10–12 specializations—This area has not yet been developed by the curriculum writing team. However, the early thinking leans toward providing opportunities to specialize in specific areas of business education, home economics, information technology, technology education, and other areas, or continue to explore their interests in more than one area. The specialization might be driven by a student’s desire for practical skills in a particular area, their interests and passions, or their plans for post-secondary education or a career. The applied design, skills, and technology program for Grades 10‒12 would be supported by a combination of provincial and local curriculum.

Assessment and accountability


Choices about classroom assessment remain with the individual teacher. While some suggestions may come from the Ministry of Education or the province, it is the classroom teacher who makes decisions about classroom assessment based on the needs of students and the realities of teaching and learning conditions.

With regard to the Provincial Student Assessment Program, the Ministry currently uses national and international assessments to provide a system-wide snapshot. The Provincial Student Assessment Program currently includes two BC-specific assessments: the Foundation Skills Assessments (FSAs) and provincial exams.

The BCTF has numerous concerns about FSAs and provincial exams, and has been proposing alternatives for over a decade. The BCTF is not opposed to the concept of a system-wide snapshot to guide implementation of curriculum or to help inform allocation of resources. However, the BCTF opposes the misuse of the FSAs and the provincial exams, in particular their use in the ranking of schools.

The BCTF has been participating on two working groups that the Ministry convened to examine the future of the Provincial Student Assessment Program—in particular, replacements for the FSAs and provincial exams. The first Advisory Group on Provincial Assessment (AGPA Ι), which was focused on the elementary and intermediate grades, presented its report to the Minister of Education in the fall of 2014. The report can be viewed here. Since then, additional work has been done by a separate working group that is looking at how to implement the recommendations from AGPA Ι’s report. Discussions regarding protection of student data are still ongoing, and the Federation is awaiting a government decision in this regard. This is still very much a work in progress and we have stated a number of times if we cannot solve this problem, the Federation will walk away from this process and ramp up our opposition.

A second Advisory Group on Provincial Assessment (AGPA ΙΙ) has been meeting to discuss alternatives to the current provincial exams. Its report was presented to the Minister of Education last fall, and the Federation is waiting for a working group to be formed. The Federation remains opposed to provincial exams at the secondary level, and will continue to advance that position. In June 2016, the Ministry announced that provincial exams would be discontinued. More information is available on the Ministry’s website here

In regard to communicating student progress to parents, the Federation has been concerned with the delay in information being released on this topic. In June 2016, The Ministry committed to getting guidelines released before the start of the new school year. An interim order on reporting will be in place for the 2016‒17 school year.


Over the decades, the province has used a variety of accountability mechanisms for the K‒12 public education system. Many of these mechanisms have not meaningfully engaged school communities, and have focused instead on empty compliance exercises. The BCTF was especially concerned with most of the elements of the accountability framework that was introduced in 2002.

After collaborative work between the BCTF, the Ministry of Education, and various other provincial partner groups during the 2014‒15 school year, the provincial government removed all elements of the 2002 accountability framework from the School Act. As of July 1, 2015, achievement contracts, superintendent’s reports on student achievement, district literacy plans, and school planning councils are no longer mandated by the Ministry of Education.

In its place is a more manageable and, hopefully, more meaningful process that is being termed the “Framework for Enhancing Student Success.” Schools will still set one or two goals, and these can be multi-year. Details of this new framework, and the supports available, was to have been made available this school year. However, school districts have simply been told to discuss how to begin their planning process for the next school year.


In the elementary grades, career-related curriculum was previously contained in the health and careers integrated resource package (IRP). Career- and health-related curriculum have now been separated and put in different curriculum documents.

The K‒12 career education curriculum appears now as a stand-alone curriculum document on the Ministry of Education website in draft form. Career education is “…designed to support students in the process of becoming successful, educated citizens by providing them with opportunities to explore a variety of careers and options for their future.”  Because this curriculum document is only in its draft form, the Federation’s position is that it should not be fully implemented in the 2016‒17 school year.  

Core competencies

Along with the draft curriculum that the Ministry of Education has made available here, the Ministry has also created what it is terming “core competencies.” They can be viewed here.  It is important to note that these were created not by teachers appointed through the BCTF, but by a consulting company hired by the Ministry. The BCTF has requested several meetings to thoroughly discuss the core competencies, but such a meeting has not occurred.

The core competencies are described by the Ministry as “sets of intellectual, personal, and social and emotional proficiencies that all students need to develop in order to engage in deep learning and life-long learning.” In some respects, these are similar to the Social Responsibility Performance Standards that have been in use for the past 15 years.

The Ministry has confirmed, though, that teachers will not be required to formally report on the core competencies. While some school districts may have developed some preliminary new report card templates that include the core competencies, these will have to be revised as it will not be teachers’ role to report on these. There may, though, be some encouragement for students to self-report using the core competencies.

The Federation has raised the onus on the Ministry to properly explain the core competencies to parents with Ministry staff, and the Federation has also pointed out that the core competencies, as they are currently formulated, reflect a narrow set of Eurocentric values that don’t acknowledge the diversity of BC classrooms. It is also the Federation’s position that collaboration time be made available for teachers to discuss the core competencies. 


Since 2013, teachers and Ministry of Education staff have been revising the current curriculum. Teams of teachers appointed by the BCTF, the Federation of Independent Schools, and the First Nations Schools Association have worked collaboratively, with Ministry staff facilitating, to update the K–9 curriculum. The first drafts of the new Grades 10–12 curricula are now available on the Ministry website.

The revisions are intended to make the curricula more manageable for teachers, and to provide more opportunities for teachers and students to focus on particular topics of interest in their schools and communities. The learning outcomes in subject areas have been reduced, thus providing more time and flexibility to explore topics in depth. 

The redesigned curriculum areas and the new core competencies are posted on the Ministry’s Transforming Curriculum and Assessment web page.

Exploration in using the new curriculum is voluntary during 2015‒16. No one is required to use it this school year and no one should feel pressured to do so. As with all other changes in our day-to-day working lives, teachers are encouraged to use school-based union meetings and staff committee meetings to discuss the issues arising from these significant curriculum changes.

The BCTF has been advocating for the time and resources teachers need to ensure they are well-supported as the new curriculum is implemented. Two additional in-service days have been added to the 2015‒16 school year and two days over each of the following two years.

The BCTF has also formally requested that the Ministry’s current implementation timelines be pushed back given that all the curriculum areas are changing at the same time, and given the lack of a substantial plan to support implementation with sufficient new funds, new resources, and in-service in all regions of the province.

Implementation should be a long-term process, one that is sustainable and will support success for students. Change of this magnitude cannot be rushed. Teachers are encouraged to incorporate the new curriculum into their practice at a rate they are comfortable with.  Understandably, as professionals, teachers want to ensure that these changes are done well.

Additionally, BCTF representatives will continue to emphasize the important distinction between implementation funding and teachers’ autonomous use of professional development funding. It is the Ministry and the employer that is making these changes. The onus is on them to support teachers in the implementation of these changes. Teachers should not be pressured to use their limited professional development funds to fund under-resourced implementation.

If parents come to you with questions about curriculum change, it’s a good idea to direct them to district administrators or the Ministry itself for information. Teachers should feel free to be straightforward with parents in expressing their views and concerns. Teachers may want to explain that for curriculum change to be successful, resources and support are required—including support for students with special needs. 

Distributed learning 

Distributed learning (DL) is the name for education at a distance in British Columbia. Primarily, DL consists of online courses in which students work with teachers over the Internet or phone. Distributed learning is not home schooling—a teacher designs and evaluates the work that a student is doing and they earn credits when they complete a course.  While DL is not home schooling, students who are successful often have a parent who makes sure that she or he is actually working on the course assignments.

Students in Grades 10‒12 in BC schools can opt to take individual courses through distributed learning. This is particularly valuable to students who are not able to take face-to-face courses. In some cases, the students are involved in intensive out-of-school activity (such as junior hockey). Others have a disability or other issue that makes it impossible to get to a school. It also is an option when a student cannot get registered in a class because they are too full, or because the school is too small to offer a particular elective.

Teachers are concerned that some secondary students are forced to take a course required for graduation by distributed learning because the school doesn’t have enough teachers for the number of students who need the course to graduate. Students may then be pushed into DL even though it may not be the best option for them.

Elementary students in distributed learning are primarily those taking their full program at a distance. Only a few elementary students take a single course in DL while they are also attending a face-to-face school.

The educated citizen

Current perspectives
The (1989) definition in the mandate for the school system stated the following:
“A quality education system assists in the development of human potential and improves the well-being of each individual person in British Columbia society.” Read more of the Mandate for the School System Province of British Columbia, 1989, here.

There has been a long history of debate around whether the role of schools is to develop broadly defined “educated citizens,” or whether schools should socialize students into the norms of society and/or promote a narrower focus on preparation for employment. Recent posts from the Ministry’s curriculum web pages focus on the learning processes rather than what they might consider to be an educated citizen.

Further reading
BCTF web page: The purposes of education  
BCTF research report: Why do we educate? 

Graduation requirements

For several years, the Ministry of Education has been reviewing its current graduation requirements (including adult graduation and school leaving certificates). The current regulations can be viewed here.

Public forums were held around the province, and the province struck a provincial advisory committee to review the feedback received. The BCTF made a submission to this process in December 2012. The BCTF’s submission was based on advice of our Provincial Specialist Association Council as well as decisions previously made by the BCTF Representative Assembly and Annual General Meeting. 

The Ministry's original commitment was to announce changes by 2015. Given the amount of time that has passed, the Federation updated its graduation requirements recommendations in January 2016. The updated brief can be found here. In June 2016, the Ministry announced its intended changes. More information is available on the Ministry’s website here.


Pedagogy refers to the principles, practice, or profession of teaching. Different ways to teach are often referred to as pedagogy. When deciding what teaching method to use teachers consider students’ background knowledge, environment, and their learning goals, as well as prescribed curriculum.

The Federation will continue to emphasize the difference between curriculum change and pedagogical change. Teachers have always been, and will continue to be, innovative. So, while the province sets the curriculum, it is teachers who make pedagogical choices. Teachers make these choices based on the learning needs of their students and the realities of the teaching and learning conditions in their classrooms.

Personalized learning

Personalized learning has become a catch-phrase for the Ministry of Education’s “Education Plan” that was launched in 2011 and revised in January 2015.

The Ministry’s goal for the Education Plan is “capable young people thriving in a rapidly changing world.” To achieve this, the Ministry states that what is needed is “an education system that better engages students in their own learning and that fosters the skills and competencies they will need to succeed.”

More information on the Ministry’s view of personalized learning can be found here.
Personalized learning also features prominently in the new curriculum. However, when promoting the curriculum changes, the Ministry often confuses pedagogy with the curriculum changes. The changes in the curriculum do not necessitate any particular teaching method. The Ministry sets the curriculum, while individual teachers make pedagogical choices, such as personalized learning. The concept of “personalized learning” that is often mentioned in tandem with the new curriculum is not a new one, and teachers have long promoted the notion of student-centred learning. 

However, teachers are aware that personalized learning on its own is not the saviour of education, and to be successful there needs to be a great deal of support provided. The Ministry’s plans regarding personalized learning are still somewhat vague, calling for significant change, but no more money.

The BCTF Research Division has produced several papers on personalized learning that provide critical analysis. The series of papers “The Education Plan: ways to engage” by Charlie Naylor includes a detailed look at personalized learning in the BC context. Another historical view on the concept of personalized learning in BC has also been published in a recent BCTF Teacher magazine (page 6) here


A commission toured BC listening to the ideas of teachers, parents, and community members. Out of what they heard, a Charter for Public Education was developed. It represents the ideals of public education and has been an inspiration for many. 

Professional learning

The perspectives of the BC government and the BCTF are very different, as reflected in Bill 11 that provides government with a mandate to manage and control teachers’ professional learning in ways that would reduce or eliminate teacher autonomy in terms of their choice of professional learning activities.

There is a strong literature base that supports teacher autonomy in both teaching and in teachers’ professional learning:  “Teachers cannot be expected to prepare autonomous, reflective and politically engaged citizens unless they possess the professional autonomy and political freedom to act as role models for their students.”

Hyslop-Margison, E.J., & Sears, A.M. (2010). Enhancing teacher performance: The role of professional autonomy. Interchange. 41

The BCTF’s position on professional development linked to curriculum is that the Ministry of Education is responsible for providing in-service on areas being mandated by government.  Teachers should continue to have autonomy in choosing their professional development aimed at areas they determine.

Further reading
Professional autonomy 
Bill 11 


These days when the word “technology” is used, it generally means digital information and communications technology—computers, the web, smartphones, and the like. However, many other tools are technology as well, from the pencil to the way that a school is structured.  

Since digital technology is increasingly integrated in the lives for most Canadians, it is also being integrated into many classrooms as well. But, with the rapid changes in technology, it is hard for the schools to keep up. Funding is not provided by the province for computers or tablets, so the access in schools is very uneven, often depending on fundraising. 

Some schools support having students bring their own device (BYOD), but this another source of inequality, as many families cannot provide a laptop or tablet. The school then must try to provide access for students who don’t have their own device. As the use of technology expands, those students from families with fewer resources are increasingly marginalized in their education.

A common issue is whether students should be able to use smartphones in class, and if smartphones are allowed, under what conditions are they allowed?

Cyber-bullying has been a problem that schools have tried to deal with through promoting “digital citizenship,” with programs in many schools in the province.

Use of the web in some communities and schools is limited by the access to a high-speed network. The government is in the midst of a three-year program to provide more access in classrooms through an upgraded “Next Generation Network.”

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