BCTF Online Museum

1968 Involvement: The Key to Better Schools

Common themes about education reappear as teachers and the public engage in considering what is best for our children and society.  The BCTF played a key role in capturing the ideas of the 1960s that would frame education development in BC over the next decade, in particular.

While most “commissions” on education have had government’s official stamp, the BCTF commission in 1968 broke the pattern.  Four teachers and BCTF staff traveled the province and received hundreds of oral and written submissions about where education should go in the future. 

The BCTF published a book called Involvement: The Key to Better School—“The report of the commission on education of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation.”

These are some of the 189 recommendations, many of which have continued to frame education in BC over the next 50 years:

  • That education should be humanized and personalized.
  • That every child from his/[her] earliest years should be assisted in developing techniques for learning on his/[her] own and given opportunities to evaluate his/[her] own progress.
  • That the development of emotional maturity and social responsibility should parallel the development of the intellect.
  • That active involvement of students, under guidance, in self-selected areas of study, will result in voluntary sustained effort and the development of real scholarship.
  • That the program designed for each child, and the continuing evaluation and designing of the program should in every case be the responsibility of the professional teacher.

Involvement book cover image

Throughout the report words from the submissions and hearings were used to explain and support the recommendations.  Some examples:

“We believe that the early years of a child’s education are the crucial years.  Therefore, it is in the first years of the school system that should have priority in money expenditures, staff qualifications and general support.” 
B.C. Primary Teachers’ Association (p. 13)

“Children must be able to identify with a model, the teacher, who possesses among other qualities considered worthy of developing in children:  a feeling of worthwhileness, a strong feeling for people, an ability to adjust, and the courage to place the child ahead of administrative problems and the curriculum” 
Kamloops Teachers’ Association (p. 26)

The inclusion of students with special needs was recognized in Recommendation 28: “Exceptional children should be accommodated in the regular school organization with adequate auxiliary services.”  (p. 34)

Provincial exams were on the agenda, reflecting the central control being challenged in the 1960s.  Recommendation 36 said: “Department of Education regulations concerning Grade 7 examinations should be eliminated.”  The Fraser Valley Principals’ Association (a part of the BCTF at the time) said: “Find a way to throw out the present type of mandatory exams in June for Grade 7.” (p39)

It wasn’t immediate, but by the mid-1970s “All Department of Education Grade 12 and 13 examinations should be eliminated immediately” was met with eliminating not just the exams, but Grade 13 as well. Grade 13 provided a first year university equivalent program and was essentially replaced by the development of community colleges around the province. Enthusiasm for multi-media education was prompted by the example of Expo 67, the world’s fair in which “Canada welcomed the world.”  A Vancouver architect, Arthur Slipper, told the commission: “I am sure that pleasurable responses can be merged into education and, to quote, ‘to see Montrealers at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night queuing to learn about irrigation in the Sahara makes one revise ideas of what constitutes entertainment and the potential of this new media’.” (p. 57)

It may have taken nearly 50 years, but one recommendation has been in operation in the 2014-15 curriculum development process:  “The Department of Education, in co-operation with the BCTF, should develop broad curriculum outlines.” (p. 61)

Even before personal computers existed, “machines” were seen as having potential:  “Teachers should be ready to give up those tasks which may be more efficiently handled by the teaching machine and concentrate on those areas best handled by the ‘human’ teacher.”  (p. 68)  Many districts created language laboratories for French—that sat empty because they turned out not to be more efficient.

The era is also reflected in the recommendation that: “Each of the large school districts should have at least one computer.” (p. 105)

The 1960s were a period of challenges to the old order of society as well as schools.  The Unitarian Church in Vancouver with its liberal ideas told the commission that “it is not surprising that there exists within our school system a groundswell of student discontent because there are too few opportunities for real questioning, real participation, and real responsibilities in our high schools.”  (p. 79)

Before there was a Status of Women program at the BCTF and no more than a single handful of women in any administrative position, the Commission said: “Women teachers should be given equal opportunity with men for promotion to administrative positions.”  (p. 109)

Involvement: The Key to Better Schools concludes with the sensible advice that “...no plan or design for education can be final.  It must be constantly evaluated and adjusted as conditions in the school, the community, and the world, change.”