Students are returning to class next week in most of B.C.’s public schools, with enrolment expected to be up province-wide for the second year running.
Education Minister Mike Bernier says early forecasts show about 529,000 students, an increase of 2,900 from last year. But that increase is centred on fast-growing school districts, while many rural areas continue to struggle with declining student numbers.
Among changes that parents and students will see this year is a new curriculum in place up to Grade 9, with a test year for changes in the senior grades. Bernier said the new emphasis on collaboration and communication skills does not mean a watering down of the basic skills, and is designed to improve students’ ability to work at modern jobs.
Report cards are to continue this school year, but the ministry is reviewing its system with an eye to providing more frequent updates. Parents are being consulted on the changes, Bernier said.
Foundation Skills Assessment tests in grades four and seven are also continuing after years of protests from teacher unions, but that program is also being examined for possible changes. FSA tests will be “enhanced” but not eliminated, Bernier said.
Provincial exams continue for graduates in math and English, but science and social studies will now be assessed at a classroom level rather than school-wide tests, Bernier said.
The ministry provided a series of top-ups to education funding this year, for bus service and to keep selected rural schools from closing. Applications are still being taken for a transportation fund until Sept. 30, requiring districts to drop across-the-board school bus fees to qualify.
Districts may still charge transportation fees for international students or those from outside a school catchment area.
NDP leader John Horgan highlighted the crowding in Surrey school district, where 7,000 students remain in portables despite an expansion program. The NDP says the B.C. government’s claim of record per-student funding ignores a reduction of education funding as a share of the provincial economy.
“Since 2001, the B.C. Liberals have dragged public education funding in this province from the second best in Canada to the second worst,” Horgan said.