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Pandemic presents time to change B.C.'s outdated education system: expert

Last Updated Aug 4, 2020 at 12:19 pm PDT

FILE - The province's return-to-school plan includes having most students back in classes full-time starting this fall.

Education expert says it's time for B.C. to change its outdated education system

Dr. Valerie Irvine argues more distance learning should be integrated into schools during and after the pandemic

Irvine suggests holding off on starting school for a month

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — B.C.’s return-to-school plan during the pandemic is an opportunity to come up with a new way of teaching and learning, according to one expert on education.

School is set to resume on Sept. 8 for K to Grade 12 students with modifications to help slow the spread of COVID-19. But a professor at the University of Victoria says school systems have been using the same approach for centuries and now presents a time to change.

Dr. Valerie Irvine, assistant professor of educational technology, says change starts with integrating distance learning to offset school crowding that forces some students to attend schools far from home. She says this is long overdue and is needed during and after the pandemic.

“We need to actually look at a lot of redesigns and I would love to see not having these as a stand-alone, separate system because it is human rights – a child has a right to be educated in the local catchment community and not be told to go off to another program,” she says.

“I would like to see the online learning programs embedded in every single district and catchment school.”

Irvine says this is a seismic change that will take time, but to get a start on it, she suggests taking another month and starting school in October instead. She says this would line up with the end of the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) many families have been relying on.

“I am hoping that they will provide planning time for these teachers and principals to figure things out before they let everyone come into a school,” she says.

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While Irvine explains learning can be done in different ways, it is clear class sizes need to stay the same.

The current plan of a full-time return to school includes learning pods of between 60 and 120 students starting Sept. 8 is getting a lot of push back from parents and educators.

Last week, B.C.’s Education Minister Rob Fleming explained the goal for September was to move away from remote learning and the province expects students to attend school in-person. However, he said there will be other options for those with medical exemptions, such as those who are immunocompromised.

Meanwhile, a petition against the mandatory return to school in B.C. has gathered thousands of signatures. It takes issue with some of the province’s plan, such as the learning group idea, which the petition argues goes against provincial health recommendations for “fewer faces, bigger spaces.”