As teachers gear up for the new school year starting Sept. 4, the BC Teachers’ Federation says classrooms are still lacking sufficient resources.
Teachers are relying on 20-year-old textbooks and a lack of equipment, president Glen Hansman told Black Press Media, and children remain on wait lists for special education teachers and other services.
“Overwhelmingly, our members say they don’t have teaching materials, or enough teaching materials, to teach the new curriculum,” Hansman said. That new curriculum emphasizes “hands-on” learning and has been phased in over three years starting in 2015. As of 2017, it has been mandatory for all students.
Hansman has been travelling across the province’s 60 school districts before school starts. Among the things he’s seen are broken Bunsen burners and not enough physical education supplies.
“The previous government and the current one have put a big emphasis on trades programs,” he added, “but I can tell you the equipment that is available in a lot of trades and technology rooms don’t look anything like what is used out there in the field.”
An education ministry spokesperson said in an email the province was in the process of “identifying what additional resources and supports may be required in schools,” to be done in consultation with teachers to make sure supplies mirror what’s needed in the field.
Hansman said the province must be the one to pay to fix these issues, but that’s not always what happens. “Our members and parents spend way, way too much of their own money buying basics for classrooms,” he said.
Indigenous curriculum needs supplies: BCTF
In 2015, B.C. introduced a component on aboriginal history into classrooms, in response to the 94 recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report on the residential-school system.
Hansman said First Nations parents have voiced concerns in the last year or so about their children using social studies books that are outdated and don’t meet reconciliation guidelines.
“We share that concern, and this is a problem in school districts across the province,” he said. “The most transformative peice the new curriculum is that Indigenous content and history has been woven into all subject areas and at all grade levels.”
The province had set aside an extra $190,000 in the 2017/18 year to implement 17 newly approved Indigenous language curriculum documents.
Another $260,000 is being spent on the UBC-led Indigenous Teacher Education Program, which will be delivered to 20 Indigenous students in Williams Lake and Quesnel.
‘Time to get the ball rolling’ on wait lists
A lot of holes still need to be filled, Hansman said, to comply with the 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that allow teachers to once again negotiate class size and composition as part of their working conditions.
“The $600 million [from the NDP’s February budget] is the cost of putting those teaching decisions back. Beyond what the court has ordered, there hasn’t been any change really, on the side of the operational budget.”
The education ministry said “the vast majority” of the 3,700 new teacher positions have already been hired, including 390 more special education teachers and 140 more teacher psychologists and counsellors. Another 1,000 education assistants have been hired to help kids who need more attention.
The province said it’s looking into how to spend another $5.6 billion, the ministry told Black Press Media, part of which will focus on ways to “improve supports for students with diverse abilities.”
When it comes to capital spending, Hansman applauded Education Minister Rob Fleming for the string of seismic upgrades at more than a dozen schools in the past year.
“The conversation needs to be, where are the other pulls? All the other accumulated issues around wait lists for students with special needs that need to be assessed, making sure the support is there, that teachers have the tools to do their job,” he said.
“We’re going into a second school year now where the NDP government is responsible. It’s time to get the ball rolling on these things.”