Friday, March 12, 2010

It is time for an Education Revolution

My column from this week's 24 hours

When education makes the media it is always about the shortage of money in the public system even though education funding per student has been rising faster than inflation and BC students are among the best educated in the industrialized world. The media has not noticed that there is a parent lead transformation of education going on as record numbers are taking their children out of the public mainstream.

The fundamental way we teach our children is still the 19th century one size fits all model. Parents want something more for their kids, they want choice and a personal program for them. Traditional public schools are not changing in response to this.

Ten years ago one seventh of students were outside of the traditional school program. Today it is one fifth and in a couple of years it will be a quarter. While enrollment in public schools fall, enrollment in independent schools is rising. 10.6% of all students are now in independent schools and in last year's kindergarten intake it was up to14%.

Who are these parents taking their kids out of the regular system? They tend to be the wealthier and better educated, it is the elite of society that are leaving the public schools. Their youth are about three times as likely to get a provincial scholarship while coming from families that could afford an average school fee of $8,000 a year.

There has also been a dramatic increase in students in French immersion. My observation is that parents enrolling their kids in French immersion tend to be university educated and wealthier, I call it the poor man's independent school. Last year 14% of all kids enrolled in the Greater Victoria School District were in French immersion, a few years ago it was less than 10%. Province wide French immersion enrollment is likely to double within ten years.

The third choice parents are making is distance learning – home schooling done under the supervision of a school. The number of youth in this program has dramatically risen in the last ten years from 7725 students to 17,677 last year. Doubling to more than 35,000 is likely within five years. Parents that have the time to use distance learning get a truly individual program for their child.

If these trends continue, in less than a decade the majority of university students will not have been in the traditional school program.

The public is making it clear that the existing public school mainstream is no longer suitable even if kids get one of the best educations in the world. People want the best for the kids and that means a personalized education path for every child in BC. To do that public schools have to radically change and question everything. There needs to be an education revolution, one in which I have trouble seeing a role for school boards or the BCTF.

I am one of these parents. My oldest son is in a high school gifted program, my second son is in French immersion and my third son is in distance learning.

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