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Navigating the global “transformation” of education, 
Andrée Gacoin, British Columbia Teachers’ Federation

Over the course of three days in May 2019, the Ministry of Education showcased British Columbia’s education system to a global audience at the OECD Education 2030 9th Informal Working Group meeting and B.C. Education Conference. Focusing on quantitative measures of success, such as graduation rates and scores on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), BC was celebrated as a success story of 21st century “transformation” and an exemplar for countries around the world. This included BC’s “approach and outcomes,” “new curriculum” and focus on “Indigenous learning” (Ministry of Education, 2019).

There is much to celebrate in education in BC. However, the “success” of BC cannot not be captured fully in quantitative measures, any more so than “transformation” can be mapped in a linear narrative of educational progress. Indeed, the exemplar of BC raises crucial questions about, rather than answers to, the landscape of global “transformation” that the OECD is promoting.

Educational “transformation” in BC

Since 2010, the province of British Columbia has been in a “process to transform education in BC” (BC Ministry of Education, 2013b). While there have been many changes to curriculum in BC over time, this is the first time that the curriculum has been revised at all grade levels and subject areas at the same time. Furthermore, the curricular revision is only one of many educational initiatives that were initiated by then Minister Abbott. These include reviewing and/or changing graduation requirements, the Provincial Student Assessment Program, and reporting regulations; encouraging technology use in classrooms; implementing a new electronic student database system; and heavily promoting particular pedagogical approaches which, while not new, were outside of the ministry’s usual scope of responsibilities.

While multiple factors certainly shaped the Ministry’s vision for “transformation,”1 a case study produced by the Global Education Leaders’ Program (GELP) points to the importance of discussions that began at the 2009 International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI), held in Vancouver. One of the presenters was Valerie Hannon2, who was also a speaker at the 2019 OECD event and serves as an expert advisor to the Education 2030 project3. According to the case study, her presentation “struck a cord with the BC Ministry” and “a series of high level meetings took place which resulted in a radical vision for transforming education in British Columbia” (Global Education Leaders’ Program, n.d., p. 1). Another key influence on the vision to “modernize” the curriculum, according to a 2018 interview with Rod Allen, was John Abbott, the director of the 21st Century Learning Initiative4 (Tucker, 2018). In 2011, this vision solidified in BC’s Education Plan as a “more nimble and flexible [education system] that can adapt more quickly to better meet the needs of 21st century learners” (BC Ministry of Education, n.d.-b). Despite sustained critiques by educators and pedagogical experts that the paradigm of 21st century learning has been strongly influenced by corporate interests and may be in tension with the fundamental values and goals of public education (e.g. Ehrcke, 2013; Hyslop, 2012; O’Neill, 2010), this paradigm has served as a rallying call for the vision of educational transformation in BC. As stated in the Ministry’s introduction to the revised curriculum, this vision centers on “education for the 21st century,” and “one focus for this transformation is a curriculum that enables and supports increasingly personalized learning, through quality teaching and learning, flexibility and choice, and high standards” (BC Ministry of Education, 2015).

When initial curriculum redevelopment work began in 2011–2012 the BCTF, facing government’s “net zero” bargaining mandate and restrictive legislation, was in Phase 1 job action. 5 In a letter from November of that year, Susan Lambert, then the president of the BCTF, requested that the Ministry “extend its work timelines to acknowledge the constraints of job action on teacher involvement in the development of, and in response to, drafts and proposals for new directions in education.”6 The Ministry responded that they were “not able to delay the timelines for the completion of this work”and proceeded to form a Curriculum and Assessment Framework Advisory Group to consider curriculum structure, design and delivery as well as assessment and reporting.8 Other work during this time, that proceeded without BCTF involvement, included “research to gather current thinking from around the world about: global trends in curriculum design [and] how students learn and develop generally and in specific discipline areas,” consulting with “provincial educators, academic experts, and subject-area specialists” (BC Ministry of Education, n.d.-c), and working with researchers to develop “draft working definitions of the cross-curricular competencies [now called “core competencies”]” (BC Ministry of Education, 2013a). Consultation also included a series of 12 regional working sessions that were organized through the BC School Superintendents’ Association (BC Ministry of Education, 2012). The overall result were “guiding principles for the future development of provincial curriculum” as well as a “curriculum prototype with five design elements” (BC Ministry of Education, 2013b, p. 3). The Ministry summarized this phase of curriculum development in a document entitled “Enabling Innovation: Transforming Curriculum and Assessment” (BC Ministry of Education, 2012).

With the BCTF still in job action, the Ministry’s next step was, in the summer and fall of 2012, to convene “teams of educators and academics” to “provide advice to the Ministry of Education on the proposed structure of the new provincial curriculum in a number of subject areas” (BC Ministry of Education, 2013b, p. 5). These subject areas were titled: Arts Education, English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, and Health and Career Education and Physical Education. These teams “discussed a conceptualisation for each area of learning and identified goals, rationale, and skills and competencies for the subject” (p. 7). They also “identified potential areas of focus and topics for each grade level” (p. 7). The resulting “draft prototypes had features that were written and interpreted differently from subject to subject” (p. 7). While the Ministry recognized these differences as part of the “unique nature of each area of learning,” the differences were also a “potential barrier for planning cross curricular units and activities” and necessitated “a common approach that applies to all curricula” (p. 7). The Ministry identified this approach as what is now called the know-do-understand model of curriculum.9

In 2013, with the BCTF no longer in job action, the Ministry began to convene teams of teachers to revise the curriculum. These teams were set up by learning area and grade grouping (mainly K–9 and 10–12 levels).10 Broadly, teams met through May 2018. The K–9 curriculum was implemented in the 2016–17 school year. Grade 10 was implemented in 2018–19 and Grades 11 and 12 are being implemented in 2019–20. To date, the K–9 reporting order (which is being revised by the Ministry, not curriculum teams) is still in a pilot phase and there are no planned changes to the 10–12 reporting order.

Navigating “transformation”: Teacher perspectives on curriculum change 

In 2017, the BCTF began a five-year research project, Living Curriculum Change, that aims to develop a unique, in-depth and contextualized exploration of contemporary curriculum change from the perspectives of teachers. This includes deepening our understanding of the state of curriculum change around the province; positioning this moment of curriculum change within the broader political and historical contexts; engaging members in a conversation on curriculum change as an ongoing process; and building our understanding of key elements of a flexible, adaptable and fully resourced implementation process. The project is based on the view that curriculum is a contested, relational and situational practice (Chambers, 2012; Kanu, 2012; Pinar, 2015). Curriculum change, in turn, refers to both explicit and implicit shifts within a historical moment as to what is taught as well as how teaching happens. Methods have included surveys,11 semi-structured interviews, 12 and historical and policy analysis. 13 The teacher perspectives and experiences that have been shared to date can be used to question the Education 2030 project as it seeks to influence what is taught, and how, at a national and/or provincial level. This can be seen in four key areas: (1) a shift to curriculum and pedagogy, (2) engaging with Indigenous knowledges, (3) the “core competencies,” and (4) curricular implementation.

A shift to curriculum and pedagogy

Within BC, the Ministry has the mandate to set curriculum, but teachers have autonomy over their pedagogical decisions in the classroom. While it is not new that the Ministry would promote particular pedagogical approaches, there has been a conflation between “curriculum change” and “pedagogical change” that has led to substantial confusion among teachers and the broader public. While some of this confusion can be linked to substantial change-over between different ministers of education and deputy ministers since 2010, each of whom have had a different approach and understanding of the curriculum change process, the conflation can also be understood as an effect of the curricular model that the Ministry has mandated.

When BC teachers began work within curriculum teams, they were told they were able to “start from nothing” (teacher interview in Gacoin, 2018). However, in subsequent meetings it became clear across the teams that the Ministry had already decided on a curricular framework. While some teachers on these teams felt they never really knew where the framework came from, a teacher on the Core French team said they were told it was at least partly based on Transitioning to concept-based curriculum and instruction: How to bring together content and process together by US-based educational consultants H. Lynn Erickson and Lois A. Lanning (2014). Team members were told that this framework was “in place” and their work had to “fit within that particular frame” (teacher interviews in Gacoin, 2018). Crucially, the model of “concept-based curriculum” is predicated on a teacher taking up “concept-based instruction” (Erickson & Fanning, 2014, p. 59), and teachers working on the curriculum recognized that for the curriculum “to work well there needs to be a shift in pedagogy” (teacher interview in Gacoin, 2018). While many teachers may find that this approach meets the needs of their students, the key point here is that any model of curriculum change that is reliant on a particular pedagogical approach is in direct tension with a teacher’s right to professional autonomy.14 Furthermore, the coupling of curriculum and pedagogy means that “successfully” implementing curriculum necessitates teaching in a particular way.

This raises questions as to how curricular change may function to restrict teacher autonomy and ultimately tie teacher evaluation to teaching in the “right” way.

Engaging with Indigenous Knowledges

Another area of tension within the BC experience is how curriculum change has engaged with Indigenous knowledges. While much of the curriculum is not “new,” the focus on integrating Indigenous knowledges and perspectives in a “meaningful and authentic manner” is (BC Ministry of Education, n.d.-a). As stated by the Ministry, this is a shift from curriculum “about Aboriginal people” to engaging with “how Aboriginal perspectives and understandings help us learn about the world and how they have contributed to a stronger society” (p. 1, emphasis original). The BCTF strongly supports the infusion of Indigenous content and perspectives throughout the K–12 curriculum.15 However there are substantial concerns as to how this work has unfolded. For one, while teachers on the curriculum development teams were broadly supportive of engaging with Indigenous knowledges, they also expressed strong concerns that the work within the teams was uneven and tokenistic at times. For instance, while a teacher on the English Language Arts and Science teams described in-depth and sustained discussions on what it meant to bring Indigenous knowledges into the curriculum, a member on the Applied Design, Skills, and Technology team was concerned that “we didn’t do anything with it” (teacher interviews in Gacoin, 2018). These experiences speak back to any claim that Indigenous knowledges have been infused into all subject areas and grades. This is ongoing and contested work.

Secondly, even when the curriculum has created spaces to engage with Indigenous knowledges, teachers need ongoing support for what is often new and difficult knowledge for many settler teachers. However, to date, there are inadequate resources and supports for teachers in this area. For instance, the 2019 BCTF Curriculum Change and Implementation Survey16 found that less than half of teachers (47%) have sufficient access to localized instructional materials that they need to integrate Indigenous perspectives into the classroom (BCTF, 2019). Furthermore, only 56% of teachers are aware of local protocols for accessing, using, and interpreting Aboriginal knowledge, and only two out of five teachers (39%) feel ready and prepared to integrate Aboriginal perspectives as a part of curriculum implementation. This has raised substantial concerns as to how this work is being engaged. As one respondent to the first Curriculum Change and Implementation Survey in 2017 stated, “If we are serious about reconciliation then we have to be serious in our approach to implementation” (BCTF, 2017).

The “core competencies”

Globally, there has been increasing attention to psycho-social skills in education, as seen in the OECD’s concept of “global competence”17 as well as the broader paradigm of 21st century skills (e.g. C21 Canada, 2015; Global Education Leaders’ Program, n.d.; O’Neill, 2010). These skills are framed as “factors that make a student better prepared for adult life as a student and/or member of the workforce and an active citizen” (Bertling, Borgonovi, & Almonte, 2016, p. 352).

BC has engaged psycho-social skills through the “core competencies” which are grouped into three areas: Communication; Thinking; and Personal and Social. 18 Many teachers have a long history of engaging these areas with children through their pedagogical practice and decisions. However, the redesigned curriculum has explicitly focused on these areas as skills that can (and should) be taught and assessed, despite ongoing debate as to how these skills are defined (e.g. Beghetto & Kaufman, 2017; Bertling et al., 2016). Furthermore, while students are expected to self-assess their core competencies, there has been an overall lack of support for teachers in implementing and supporting student self-assessment (BCTF, 2017).

A key risk for the “core competencies” is that social and emotional learning (SEL) is reduced to transmitting a set of skills centered on maintaining the status quo, rather than skills that support students to critically engage with structures of power and privilege. This is already playing out in critiques of social and emotional learning that have questioned the extent to which skills, such as self-regulation to be “calm,” is about the needs of the child or about easier classroom management (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2018). Furthermore, these skills potentially mobilize power-laden definitions of who children are. For instance, a recent analysis of “grit” as a universal “skill” argues that framing grit as an object to teach transforms students’ “inner thoughts” into something to be managed according to an implicit “cultural thesis about the ‘right’ kind of child” (Kirchgasler, 2018, p. 710). This object is given the appearance of being “neutral” as it is transformed into quantifiable global measures, such as those assessed by the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).19 Problematically, measuring and assessing “well-being,” an increasing focus for SEL both in Canada and globally (e.g. Blad, 2018; Krachman, LaRocca, & Gabrieli, 2018; Shanker, 2014), may further contribute to the “ill-being” that high-stakes testing has on teachers and students (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2018).

Curricular implementaiton

Since “transformation” began, the BCTF has been advocating for adequate time, resources and money to support curriculum change. For instance, in 2013, the then president of the BCTF, Jim Iker, sent a letter to the Ministry to raise “issues of concern” that arose during the initial curriculum team meetings:

Our members report that when the subject of implementation has come up in the curriculum meetings, members have been told that it is not their mandate, rather it is only to write the curriculum. There is concern among members that there will be no funding available to support implementation.20

Interviews with curriculum team members reinforced these concerns and illustrated how implementation was consistently framed as separate from curriculum development in multiple domains, including assessment and reporting, professional development, and resources (Gacoin, 2018). In 2019, the mandate is to implement the full K–12 curriculum but there is still completely insufficient funding for curriculum change. Furthermore, assessment and reporting have been framed as a separate “phase” of education transformation, which has led to substantial frustration and confusion around the province (BCTF, 2017). More broadly, the curriculum is being implemented in educational systems and structures that do not necessarily supports its demands. For example, does the time-tabling within secondary schools support “inquiry” projects that are interdisciplinary? How do personalization and flexibility fit with graduation requirements that have changed very little and must be responsive to the expectations of post-secondary institutions?

Rather than engage with these questions, the “transformation” of education in BC has treated curriculum development as something separate from the incredibly complex landscape of public education within the province. The risk is then that “teacher-led” can become “blame the teacher,” as one member of the English Language Arts team said:

I mean, the paranoid conspiracy theorist in me is that we just—you know, this is, like, they gave it to us, like, when it doesn’t work, we’re gonna go back to an IRP, because we needed “experts” to tell us how to teach. We are the experts, we do know this. So, I hope that it doesn’t fail (teacher interview in Gacoin, 2018).

Getting lost on the journey to “well-being” 2030

Alongside celebrating BC’s education system, the OECD event in Vancouver launched a “learning compass.”21 This compass “defines the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that learners need to fulfil their potential and contribute to the well-being of their communities and planet” (OECD, n.d.). Re-deploying colonial tropes of discovery and conquest, the “learning compass” charts what the OECD believes education should be around the world. This is a global “common- sense” of what (and who) counts in education.

Rather than an exemplar of a journey that has been charted and completed, the BC example raises multiple questions as to whether this linear and supposedly uncomplicated journey to “well-being 2030” is even possible. What happens to pedagogical autonomy when a curricular model is premised on a particular pedagogical approach? How might the “infusion” of Indigenous knowledges be a colonizing, rather than a de-colonizing, move? How might psycho-social skills become “new spaces of global governance” (Kirchgasler, 2018) for students and teachers? Who is held responsible for the failures of “transformation” when the funding for public education is woefully inadequate?

Proponents of Education 2030, and the OECD agenda more broadly, often answer these questions with reference to the “local context.” They grapple with questions such as how to translate curricular guidance and assessment measures, or how to make concepts culturally relevant. What is left out in these discussions is whether there should even be a global mandate on what is taught and how in the first place. What values are erased when education is rationalized by the demands of global knowledge economies? Whose interests are served by the de-professionalization of the teaching profession? What knowledges are privileged through the underlying imperialist cultural assumptions and expectations?

To engage these questions, we may need to get lost on the journey to “well-being 2030.” Rather than frame our work through charts that have been made for us, we should work in solidarity with teachers around the world who are already navigating the complex spaces between local lives, national policies, and global agendas.


BC Ministry of Education. (2012). Enabling Innovation: Transforming curriculum and assessment. Retrieved from

BC Ministry of Education. (2013a). Defining cross-curricular competencies: Transforming curriculum and assessment (draft). Retrieved from

BC Ministry of Education. (2013b). Exploring curriculum design: Transforming curriculum and assessment. Retrieved from

BC Ministry of Education. (2015). Introduction to British Columbia’s redesigned curriculum (draft). Retrieved from

BC Ministry of Education. (n.d.-a). Aboriginal Education. Retrieved from

BC Ministry of Education. (n.d.-b). BC’s Education Plan. Retrieved from

BC Ministry of Education. (n.d.-c). Provincial curriculum and assessment development process. Retrieved from sites/ pdf

BCTF. (2017). 2017 BCTF Curriculum Change and Implementation Survey. Retrieved from

BCTF. (2019). 2019 BCTF Curriculum Change and Implementation Survey. Forthcoming.

Beghetto, R. A., & Kaufman, J. C. (Eds.). (2017). Nurturing creativity in the classroom (second ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Bertling, J. P., Borgonovi, F., & Almonte, D. E. (2016). Psychosocial skills in large-scale assessments: Trends, challenges, and policy implications. In A. A. Lipnevich, F. Preckel, & R. D. Roberts (Eds.), Psychosocial skills and school systems in the 21st century. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

Blad, E. (2018). Schools should teach (and measure) ‘soft skills,’ parents and educators agree. Rules for Engagement, 2018 (September 5). Retrieved from soft_skills_parents_and_educators_agree.html

C21 Canada. (2015). Shifting minds 3.0: Redefining the learning landscape in Canada. Retrieved from uploads/2015/05/C21-ShiftingMinds-3.pdf

Chambers, C. (2012). A topography for Canadian curriculum theory. In S. Gibson (Ed.), Canadian curriculum studies: Trends, issues, and influences (pp. 194-207). Vancouver, BC: Pacific Educational Press.

Ehrcke, T. (2013). 21st Century Learning Inc. Our Schools/Our Selves, Winter 2013, 61-81.

Erickson, H. L., & Lanning, L. A. (2014). Transitioning to concept-based curriculum and instruction: How to bring content and process together. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Gacoin, A. (2018). The politics of curriculum making: Understanding the possibilities for and limitations to a “teacher-led” curriculum in British Columbia. Retrieved from

Global Education Leaders’ Program. (n.d.). Case study: Developing an education system for the 21st century - British Columbia, Canada. Global Education Leaders’ Program, London.

Hargreaves, A., & Shirley, D. (2018). What’s wrong with well-being? Educational Leadership, 76(2), 58-63.

Hyslop, K. (2012, October 5). BC Education Plan Linked to Private Corporations. The Tyee. Retrieved from

Kanu, Y. (2012). Curriculum as cultural practice: Postcolonial imagination. In S. Gibson (Ed.), Canadian curriculum studies: Trends, issues, and influences (pp. 209-224). Vancouver, BC: Pacific Educational Press.

Kirchgasler, C. (2018). True grit? Making a scientific object and pedagogical tool. American Educational Research Journal, 55(4), 693- 720. doi:10.3102/0002831217752244

Krachman, S. B., LaRocca, R., & Gabrieli, C. (2018). Accounting for the whole child. Educational Leadership, 75(5), 28-34.

Ministry of Education. (2019). Powerpoint. Paper presented at the 4th Annual Partner Liaison Meeting, Vancouver.

OECD. (n.d.). Retrieved from  

O’Neill, E. (2010). The ministry’s 21st century obsession. Teacher, 23, 1. OECD. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Pinar, W. (2015). Educational experience as lived: Knowledge, history, alterity: The selected writings of William F. Pinar. New York, NY: Routledge.

Shanker, S. (2014). Broader measures for success: Social/emotional learning. Retrieved from uploads/2017/08/Broader-measures-of-success-Measuring-what- matters-in-education.pdf

Tucker, M. (2018). British Columbia’s curriculum: A glimpse of the future. Education Week. Retrieved from top_performers/2018/06/british_columbias_curriculum_a_glimpse_ of_the_future.html


1 According to a Ministry email cited in a 2012 news article, “There isn’t one moment in time when the research began, or research started with one specific organization—this has been an ongoing process. The ministry is always reviewing new and exemplary practices in B.C. and other jurisdictions across Canada and around the world that support students” (Hyslop, 2012).

2 Hannon is a co-founder of the UK-based Innovation Unit ( and a founding member and co-chair of the Global Education Leaders Partnership (

3 See

4 See:

5 The documents presented in this paragraph directly contradict Rod Allen’s claim (in Tucker, 2018) that work on the curriculum progressed with union involvement from 2012–2013.

6 BCTF Records: Letter from Susan Lambert to George Abbott, November 21, 2011.

7 BCTF Records: Letter from George Abbott to Susan Lambert, December 2, 2011.

8 BCTF Records: Letter from Rod Allen to Susan Lambert, “Curriculum and Assessment Framework Advisory Group,” November 15, 2011.

9 See

10 In 2013, the Ministry convened teams in English Language Arts, Science, Social  Studies, Arts Education, Math, Health and Physical Education for K–10. In November 2014, teams were convened for K–9 and 10–12 across most subject areas. In 2015, the Ministry convened Applied Skills, Design and Technology (ADST) and Career Education teams. Sources from BCTF records: Letter from Rod Allen to Susan Lambert, “Provincial Curriculum Development,” February 8, 2013; Letter from Rod Allen to Jim Iker, “Provincial Curriculum Development,” November 13, 2014.

11 See: 2017 BCTF Curriculum Change and Implementation Survey (; Digital Reporting Tools: A survey of members (; Working on the frontline of education: Full-day kindergarten working and learning survey (

12 See: The politics of curriculum making: Understanding the possibilities for and limitations to a “teacher-led” curriculum in British Columbia ( aspx?id=50685)

13 See: BC’s New Curriculum ( pdf); Educational technologies and teacher autonomy ( aspx?id=50534)

14 The BCTF defines professional autonomy as a teacher’s right to exercise their judgment and act on it. See:

15 See for more about the BCTF’s work in the area of Aboriginal Education.

16 In May 2019, the BCTF conducted a random sample survey that invited members to share their experiences implementing BC’s redesigned curriculum in their classrooms and schools. The survey had a response rate of 33%, giving an overall confidence of 95% +/- 7%.

17 See

18 See

19 See:

20 BCTF records: Letter from Jim Iker to Peter Fassbender, July 3, 2013.

21 See

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