There is no doubt the Supreme Court of Canada decision to uphold the BCTF appeal against the former provincial government’s legislation means, among many other things, a dramatic improvement in educational services and opportunities available to British Columbia children and families.
There will be thousands of additional teachers in BC classrooms this September. So, tens of thousands of children will get additional one to one help. Students’ individual learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses will be easier to spot. Assessment will be more straightforward. Teachers will be better able to diagnose the specific needs of individual students and develop programs, materials and processes that fit those needs. Classroom discussions can be deeper, richer and include the active participation of more children.
Like parents, students, teachers and other educational workers, IPE/BC welcomes these real and important improvements. Still, there are at least three important things to remember as we watch this new era of increased resources roll out.
First, for 15 years increased funding that should have been there wasn’t. So incremental improvements didn’t happen as they should have. Quite the opposite. Year after year, cuts made teachers’, principals’, and school boards’ jobs much harder. So when all at once a decade and a half of disruption is partly remediated, it’s not all going to be smooth sailing. There will inevitably be glitches, tensions and frustrations. It will be tempting for some, and ideologically convenient for others, to put the blame for bumps in the road on the province’s teachers and their insistence on achieving justice under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, responsibility will properly lie with the government that promulgated the offending legislation in the first place and then fought tooth and nail for fifteen years to defend it.
Second, while reports from most School Boards around the province indicate the Court’s ruling is being implemented quite smoothly, we are hearing from some Boards and schools that there are some inequities and uncertainties about staffing and resource allocation. The Ministry, the Boards and the BCTF should see to it that every child gets the support required by the letter and the spirit of the SCC decision.
Third, the previous provincial government failed to provide funding for deferred maintenance, seismic upgrades, and new school construction. This meant districts were forced to close schools, mitigate space shortages with portables, and address only the most egregious maintenance issues. While new teachers can be brought in relatively quickly, it will take time and resources for districts to rebuild their space capacity and upgrade facilities to adequate seismic and instructional standards.
Though it is perhaps difficult to remember, the situation in BC schools in January 2002 (when the infamous laws were passed) wasn’t close to perfection. Resources and funding were sadly lacking in many important areas. Simply bringing the situation back to where it was fifteen years ago, while a significant achievement and well worth celebrating, is just the beginning.