Rethinking schools in the 21st century

What does it mean to be an educated citizen in the Bulkley Valley? That was the question on the table at a recent education forum.

What does it mean to be an educated citizen in the Bulkley Valley?

That was the question on the table at a recent education forum that brought students, parents, teachers, school officials and RCMP at Walnut Park Elementary School.

“A lot of it was based around the ability to use technology, and the ability to think critically,” said Seth Jex, one of three Grade 11 students from Smithers Secondary who joined in the forum.

Jex said another big question at the forum was how to make schools  more flexible.

“In my Dad’s era, he went through school and he would get one or two jobs in his career,” he said. “But now we get out of school and can expect 12 different jobs.”

Arctica Cunningham, also in Grade 11, said she’s facing the same issue.

“We don’t know what careers will be available when we graduate,” she said, adding that she’s interested in environmental science. “It’s an exploding field right, so who knows by the time I get my degree what jobs will be out there.”

Both Jex and Cunningham said they are excited about the idea of giving students more elective classes, and earlier in their school careers.

Jex drew a map to explain that right now,  students get a limited range of electives by Grade 9 and no fully independent choices until their senior year. He likes the idea of adding more choices to foundational skills, and opening up more exchanges with other schools, local colleges and correspondence programs.

“Let’s say HSS is doing a really good program in chemistry, and it’s offered in the afternoon,” he said. “Why can’t Smithers kids hop on a bus and go down there to get that course, or vice-versa?”

Jex and Cunningam both enjoyed  a video shown at the forum that featured Sir Ken Robinson, an author and former education advisor in the U.K.

In the clip, which is available on YouTube, Robinson questions some core parts of the public school system as it stands, like grouping children according to age rather than interest or ability.

“It’s like the most important thing about them is their date of manufacture,” Robinson said in the video.

Cunningham did admit that a more personalized school system would be a challenge to organize.

“How is the teacher going to handle each student doing something different?” she asked, noting that one parent at the forum said it was hard enough to make one individualized plan when home-schooling her daughter.

Chris van der Mark, superintendent for the Bulkley Valley School District, said the education forum, which will have a follow-up in March, is all about gathering input.

“We’re really trying to canvas and involve parents and kids in their education,” he said

In October, the B.C. government launched a new education plan that was short on detail, but listed five principles emphasizing personalized learning, greater flexibility for senior students and technology in the classroom.

A website explaining the B.C. Liberals plan is available at