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New B.C. curriculum eroding environmental education, critics fear

Critics fear that environmental education could be losing its place as a prime topic of study in B.C. schools.

Critics fear that environmental education could be losing its place as a prime topic of study in B.C. schools.

And that’s especially bad at a time when issues like sewage, Alberta oilsands and pipelines are front-and-centre, said elementary-school teacher Lenny Ross.

Ross, who teaches at Strawberry Vale Elementary School and helps organize environmental-education programs throughout the Greater Victoria school district, is part of a grassroots effort to ensure the importance of the environment is retained during the ongoing review of the curriculum.

The kindergarten-to-Grade 9 curriculum is being examined in detail by the province, he said.

“In this day and age, you need to be an environmentally literate citizen because there’s so many issues that come up that we’re asked to have opinions on,” Ross said.

Another vital aspect of a well-conceived environmental program is that it is a “huge hook” for young minds, he said — a concept that is backed up by research.

“It’s how you can get kids excited about school, it’s something they all relate to,” he said. “It’s real-world, it’s relevant, it’s hands-on, they see it.”

But he is concerned about proposed changes — including a shift in Grade 4 science studies, for example, where environmentally relevant topics like habitat, community and weather could give way to units on things like atoms/molecules and the rock cycle.

As well, some topics are being moved down to lower grades where they are looked at in less depth, Ross said.

He said he realizes the curriculum review is still underway, but said he doubts if all of the concerns being expressed can be met.

“I feel that the process that they’ve set up for making draft revision isn’t going to accommodate the scale of change that we’re talking about.”

Ross said the concern also arises that if a topic is not included in the curriculum, there is no funding for materials.

“And if it’s not in the curriculum, there’s no justification to teach it at university to teachers in training.”

A detailed process to review curriculum has been underway since 2010 and still has a plenty of ground to cover, according to the Ministry of Education.

Nothing is finalized and everything prepared to date is still in draft form, said ministry spokesman Ben Green. “The ministry is actively seeking feedback and suggestions for improvement from educators, parents, education stakeholders and the public at large,” he said.

Environmental education has not been cast aside, he said.

“Environmental issues were seen as important by members of the curriculum-development teams and there was no intention to minimize or reduce the amount of environmental content, by any means.”

Rather, the intent is to improve the experience of learning about the environment, Green said.

“The ministry hopes to better address environmental content through both revisions to the current drafts as well as the addition of elaborations, inquiry questions and sample lesson plans.”

From that, it is hoped teachers will be able to bring in additional information as they see fit, Green said, and to be bound less by “prescribed content” so that varied topics of interest can be emphasized.

He said that one goal of changing the curriculum will be to develop connections from subject to subject, and environmental concepts are seen as a key part of that.

“Environmental issues like climate change are natural interdisciplinary topics because of the interconnections between science, technology and society, and will likely be featured prominently as suggested interdisciplinary topics.”

As well, a strong core curriculum in the lower grades would better equip students seeking out elective courses in senior high school, Green said.

For more information about the curriculum review, go to curriculum.gov.bc.ca.

jwbell@timescolonist.com