The class of 2002 will graduate from Grade 12 with a markedly different education if the B.C. government implements its plans for radical changes in its
school system. Following recommendations of a royal commission that Premier William Vander Zalm set up in March, 1987, on how the province could make its education system
more relevant and better prepare students for the future, education officials announced last month that the traditional grade-level advancement will gradually disappear during the first four years of schooling for the more than 25,000 five-year-olds expected to enter the system in September, 1989. In the following school year, children will start school in two groups—September and January—according to their birth dates, and teachers will assess each individual’s progress.
As a result of the commission’s 83 recommendations, students will advance steadily through a common curriculum of arts, science and history until graduation from Grade 10, but they can also pursue special interests at their own pace. Those at the Grade 11 and 12 level will have the option of taking credited training in business or industry. Said Education Minister Anthony Brummet: “We need to develop a sequential group of skills that students can apply in their studies and in their later life. We can no longer predict what to specifically prepare students for.” But spokesmen for some teachers’ and parents’ groups expressed skepticism about the new program—for which the government has allocated $1.4 billion over 10 years. “There are going to be problems with parents accepting the new policy,” said Maxine Wilson, first vice-president of the B.C. ParentTeacher Home and School Federation and a former Grade 1 teacher. “Children are grouped in community activities by age, and parents feel that it is healthier to group children in school by age.”
Teachers’ reactions to the new policy, according to B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Elsie McMurphy, ranged from “cautious optimism” to “hopeful pessimism.” But many expressed concern over the apparent haste of its implementation and its lack of specific details. Other observers, including Wilson, said that parents should have been included in the application of the policy—and that, for it to be truly effective, classes will have to be smaller.
U.S. education officials say that the ungraded approach, which grew out of the social upheavals of the 1960s there, has produced mixed results. According to Howard Carroll, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based National Education Association, the emphasis in the U.S. school system has been shifting away from the unstructured approach in the 1980s in response to a marked drop in Scholastic Aptitude Test scores—the basis for entrance to postsecondary institutions. Said Carroll: “The big thing now is the testing of students and the evaluation of teachers—all under the heading of ‘accountability.’ ”
Still, Brummet maintained that the system’s graduates will be better educated under the new program. “Students are going to reach university with quite different skill levels than they are now,” Brummet said. “Universities are going to have to adjust, teacher-training programs are going to have to adjust. But the real proof of the B.C. program’s merits will not be available at least until thousands of children in it graduate.”
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