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BCTF finds lack of substance in Campbell's education announcements

Premier Gordon Campbell's much-anticipated announcements around education in his televised address to British Columbians on Wednesday has left teachers cold.

"The Premier’s address lacked depth and demonstrates he doesn’t really understand how children learn,” said BC Teacher's Federation President Susan Lambert. “Teachers and parents know that children learn at their own pace, and we need to support them according to their own learning needs and skill levels.”

Lambert also feels the announcements' lack of substance are a disappointment to teachers.

Campbell vowed to British Columbians that he would do three things for public education: (1) expand Strong Start centres in order to help more preschoolers prepare for kindergarten; (2) offer full day kindergarten to every 5-year-old in September, 2011, and do an early learning assessment on each child; and (3) make sure every child in Grade 4 has reading, writing and math skills that meet curricular requirements. According to Campbell, his government supports "millions of dollars of investment" as well as consultations with parents and educators.

Despite rumours that were circulating for weeks before Wednesday's announcements, the Premier did not announce a major restructuring of school boards. He did, however, make a vague reference to education in the 21st century, an unofficial shout-out to 21st Century Learning initiatives around the world.

Here is the education section of the Premier's speech, word for word:

We know that the public education system did us all a lot of good as we went through the 20th century.But we live in the 21st century. And it's important for us to apply new research to make sure that our children, every one of our children, is lifted up to take the full advantage of the opportunities that lie before them. You know, right now in BC, one out of five Grade 4 students don't read, write, or have the math skills at the Grade 4 level. That's really not good enough for any of us. And it's important for us to find ways that we can actually help that 20% of Grade 4 kids do better. We know the answer: it's to invest in early childhood development and early childhood learning. So tonight I can tell you we're going to take on three specific steps to help our children, our youngest children, as they get ready for school.

First, we're going to expand our network of Strong Start centres. We have hundreds in British Columbia today. But we have to expand it to make sure that even more children get the benefits of the Strong Start initiatives that have been undertaken. What is a Strong Start centre? It's a place where an early childhood educator is working with a parent and their child, or a grandparent and their child, to make sure that that child is ready for school. It's always surprising to me when I hear that one out of three children are not prepared for kindergarten or Grade 1. We can and we will do better. Expanding our Strong Start centres will help us encourage those children and prepare them for school.

Second, as you probably know, for the first time ever, next September, in September of 2011, every young British Columbian will be able to take advantage of 5-year-old kindergarten on a full-time basis. If their parents believe that's best for them, it's going to be available as a service for them. And while they're in kindergarten, we intend to do an early childhood learning assessment. That will allow us to understand what special needs that a child may have when they're in kindergarten so we can tailor our education for them, from Grade 1, 2, 3, to 4. That's really important if they're going to take full advantage of the educational opportunities that are before them.

And finally, we commit to every parent in the province that within the next five years, every child that leaves Grade 4 will be reading at Grade 4 level, will be writing at Grade 4 level, and will be doing math at Grade 4 level. That will take millions of dollars of investment. But it's something that's worth doing. Because it opens up all kinds of opportunities for our young people in the province of British Columbia. 

You know, over the last little while, I've become aware of the great opportunities that exist for all of us as we improve our public education system. And I'm looking forward to talking directly with parents and principals and teachers, to see what we can do to make sure that British Columbia's students can excel in the years ahead.

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