When George Abbott, the B.C. Minister of Education, was in Revelstoke in June for a Chamber of Commerce function, one of the planks of the government’s education plan he talked about was personalized learning.
“If your most exciting aim in life is to drive a truck as big as this hotel, that’s great,” he said during breakfast at the Regent. “We should be excited. If that’s what the student is excited about, give them an opportunity to work in the heavy equipment area.
“Let’s expand the educational experience so students can get out into the community and explore what they think might be the passion for the balance of their lives,” he continued. “A career that will genuinely be a career, it won’t be work.”
Personalized learning is one of the buzz terms floating about education circles these days. During last year’s Revelstoke school board elections several local candidates brought it up as one of the initiatives the school district should pursue.
“The challenge for School Districts will be to continue to achieve success in what has been regarded as traditional academic skills such as literacy, math, science, social studies while incorporating technology and new skills to ensure learning is relevant for today’s students,” said school board chair Alan Chell at the time.
Trustees Mauro Morrone and Jeff Nicholson also raised it as a key issue for the future of education. At around the same time, in late October of 2011, the government announced personalized learning as a major plank of its BC Education Plan, though discussion dates to before that. It launched a website, www.personalizedlearningbc.ca, and an interactive web document explaining how it would work, as well as seeking feedback.
What is personalized learning? In a nutshell, it’s about allowing more flexibility for students in terms of their education choices. The BC Education Plan puts its as such:
“Under the Plan, teachers, students and parents will work together to make sure every student’s needs are met, passions are explored and goals are achieved. This means student-centred learning that’s focused on the needs, strengths and aspirations of each individual young person. Students will play an active role in designing their own education and will be increasingly accountable for their own learning success.”
As Abbott put it, a student interested in operation heavy machinery will get a chance to learn about that. Someone interested in being a logger could have the opportunity to learn about that. Likewise, a student interested in computer programming will have access to courses in that area.
The government took a small step towards its plan when it passed Bill 36 in the spring. The bill eliminated the standard school calendar, giving school districts more scheduling options and even allowing them move towards year-round schooling.
So far the Revelstoke school district hasn’t done anything to take advantage of the new legislation, saying it would take lots of discussion before doing so.
Personalized learning has not come up as a major discussion point at meetings of the Revelstoke Board of Education. However, at the board’s last meeting of the past school year, Chell cited a new course on trail building as an example of personalized learning.
For Revelstoke, and many other school districts, the challenge will be implementing personalized learning. As Revelstoke Secondary School shrinks in size, it becomes harder to fund some courses. Providing an even broader range of course will be even more challenging, unless there’s an increase in funding (so far there hasn’t been any).
For Alan Chell, the key in Revelstoke will be to make use of technology. “We use technologies in the schools but maybe there’s more we can do that way,” he said in an interview last week. “I think one area we can do more with in Revelstoke is the whole aspect of distance learning.”
Part of the move towards personalized learning is to create a more flexible system that would move away from simple memorization of facts, said Chell.
“We have to have a more flexible education system that teaches the students and helps them develop a different skill set than a lot of the previous educational system, which relied on memorization.”