With students across the province returning to school on Tuesday, Minister of Education George Abbott spoke with northern media outlets on August 30 to discuss the year ahead and some of the changes and challenges facing the provincial education system.
One of the biggest changes come September 6 is the introduction of all-day kindergarten.
“This is a big step forward from our perspective, moving to full day kindergarten, but it is also a big investment of tac payer dollars…It will be about a half-billion dollar enterprise, but it is also a very worthwhile one,” he said.
“As we look at the long-term view, I feel that this will have a significant impact on the education of our youth.”
Another new initiative this year is personalized learning, an initiative that will allow students to focus more on the areas that interest them. This is something Abbott says should help reduce the number of students being lost from the education system prior to graduation.
Abbott said this year was also a mix fo good news and bad news for school districts, students and parents. The good news, he said, is a changing demographic.
“The experience generally in BC, which is consistent with Canada and the western world, has been significant declines in enrollment at about 10 per cent. That is reflective of the birth rate in the province, but I think we are pretty much at the bottom of that. All day kindergarten will increase enrollment numbers and we are seeing a change in the birth rate that should be positive for enrollment,” he said.
“We don’t anticipate few, if any, school closures in the next year. This will be decided by the school boards, but the shifting demographics indicate we have probably turned the corner on school closures.”
The bad news is that the new school year is beginnning under early job action by teachers, who won’t be doing extra
curricular duties, and Abbott says that could escalate.
“The current contract between the BC Teacher’s Federation and the B.C. Public School Employer’s Association ended April 30 of this year. There has been bargaining taking place but it has been relatively unproductive at this point. If there is a reason for optimism, it has not been shared with me,” he said.
“The parties seem very far apart in terms of demands and what can be delivered…There is going to be an impact of bargaining on back to school for sure.”
And while three schools in Prince Rupert have closed over the past two years in hopes of reaching a capacity that would support the replacement of the aging PRSS building, Abbott said he couldn’t guarantee anything.
“There are a lot of challenges in the provincial, national and world economy we are dealing with…There will be some investment in school replacement and remediation, and I believe Prince Rupert is on the list for remediation work, and we will continue to make investments in this area,” he said.
“We do hope that the economy in the province and the world stabilizes more to all us to do something more long-term and stable.”
As for the demolition of the two east-side schools, Abbott said those kinds of decisions will be left up to the locally elected officials.
“What I told school board chairs is that I don’t want to get in the way of their management of those assets, but I do want them to make wise decisions in terms of the cost of demolition versus the cost of keeping the building and doing things like heating it,” he said.
“Our capital works people will be in constant touch with their peers at the school districts and where there are possible solutions we will examine them.”