Perhaps I Can Celebrate The End Of B.C. Provincial Exams

05/31/2016 12:45 EDT | Updated 06/01/2017 05:12 EDT

If I wasn't so familiar with the B.C. Ministry of Education's Jekyll-and-Hyde character, I'd be thrilled with the new Graduation Program. After decades of frustration about the limits to student learning experiences that provincial exams set, I'd love to pop a champagne cork now that I am free of the fetters they placed on my lessons.

The announcement of the changes has revived old arguments, such as from Prof. David Livingstone, about what exams are for. I must say that I disagree with the learned professor who believes that the removal of exams will lead to the dumbing down of learning.

I happen to agree with my students that they don't need to know the details of the Halibut Treaty in order to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens in a democracy.

Many of the arguments that Dr. Livingstone makes have been made throughout the history of education whenever changes have arisen. Plato himself lamented the rise of writing in place of dialogue. That was over 2,000 years ago.

school students

After decades of feeling like a quisling every time I told my students how "important" studying for provincial exams was, I'll happily let them know that they no longer will have to spend months memorizing the gajillion facts that they can instantaneously access on their personal devices.

But my joyful relating of this good news will be dampened by the knowledge that there is no funding to make possible the full implementation of the new curriculum. It's as though my students have been given the keys to a car without any money for insurance or gas or maintenance or even driving lessons.

The new curriculum requires more student-led activities but when schools are at or above 200 per cent capacity, where will teachers find the space for breakout rooms so that small groups of students can work together on projects?

Personalized learning is one of the core ideas in the new curriculum but with no education assistant support for students with special needs, how can one teacher provide personalized learning for all students in a class of 30?

Political, rather than pedagogical, decision

Given the pattern of cuts that the ministry has imposed on school district budgets, I suspect the elimination of some provincial exams is more of a political rather than a pedagogical decision. If it were purely pedagogical, the Foundational Skills Assessments (FSAs) would be eliminated as well.

Contrary to what the minister says about them being "valuable," FSAs only serve to highlight the socio-economic differences between schools. Unless and until the minister is going to do something to alleviate those differences, they only serve to support the arguments of those promoting the growth of private schools.

After 15 years experiencing the B.C. Liberals' brand of public education, I have a lot of difficulty believing that the ministry makes any pedagogically-based decisions.

Take a look at the mandate letter that Mike Bernier received from Premier Christy Clark upon his appointment as minister. His top task is to balance the ministerial budget. His final task (on a list of 13 items) is to ensure that "taxpayer resources" are used "efficiently. Nowhere in his mandate letter is there any acknowledgement of barriers to learning such as a 20 per cent childhood poverty rate in this province.

Barrier to pursuit of learning

The provincial exams were indeed a barrier to my students' pursuit of learning and I am pleased to see them gone. Each year my students take on the role of adult citizens when our classroom becomes a country. Through the process of electing a government and participating in an economy, they become curious about many things that will never be on the Socials 11 provincial exam: mercantilism, Machiavelli, Kant's Categorical Imperative, egalitarianism, ethics.

In the past I've only had enough time to guide them through brief glimpses of these and many other concepts so they have often been frustrated when discussions had to be stopped because we had to study the Statute of Westminster instead.

I am relieved that I will now be able to assess and evaluate my students in ways that fit their learning experiences. Perhaps that's enough of a reason to celebrate the new Graduation Program. Perhaps.

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