By Rob Fleming
Today’s students are benefiting from more opportunities to reach their full potential than ever before.
That’s why this Education Week, I’d like to share some of the great things happening in B.C. classrooms that are making a huge difference in children’s lives.
Since forming government 20 months ago, we’ve been working every day to create more opportunities for people in our province, so that everyone can enjoy a good life in the community they call home. A big part of that has been improving our education system so that all children receive the same high-quality education and opportunities – whether they live in Prince George, Surrey, Haida Gwaii, Nanaimo or Cranbrook.
To do their best at school, kids need comfortable, safe spaces to learn and a supportive, inclusive environment. Students are now benefiting from the largest funding increases in B.C.’s public education system ever, with nearly $1 billion in new money to give students more support in the classroom, and $2.7 billion in new capital funding to improve their learning environments.
Because of our strong economy, more families are choosing to make B.C. their home. Our public schools are growing, with more kids than ever entering our classrooms. We acted quickly to ensure school construction projects got underway, with more than $1 billion invested since September 2017. This historic funding will add thousands of new seats, so we can get kids out of portables in some of our fastest-growing communities.
By hiring 4,000 new teachers and 1,000 new educational assistants, students are also now benefiting from smaller class sizes. I often hear from parents who tell me they see a huge difference in their child’s learning development because they have more one-on-one time from their teachers.
We’ve also worked at an incredible pace to approve seismic projects twice as fast as the last government, with 29 projects announced in just 20 months one-third of them completed or underway.
When parents told us they faced impossible fundraising burdens to ensure their kids have something as fundamental as a school playground, our government created a new annual $5 million playground equipment program. To date, we’ve funded new playgrounds at 101 schools, benefiting 25,000 children throughout the province.
Kids today are facing challenges and pressures that are much different than they were a generation ago. That’s why we’re making sure all school districts have resources for mental health and wellness. This year, we brought together 550 mental-health professionals during our second annual school community mental-health conference so we can develop better strategies to get kids help when they need it.
To do their best at school and in life, it’s critical that all students feel safe at school, with the freedom to be themselves. To make sure all classrooms are welcoming and inclusive, we also expanded Expect Respect and a Safe Education (ERASE) – a comprehensive training guide and strategy for students, parents and teachers, with an anonymous safety reporting tool to fight bullying and the lure of gangs. And I’m proud to be able to now say that every school in the province has sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) inclusive policies in place, to help protect kids from being bullied because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Recently, we announced our commitment to make sure all public schools in B.C. will provide students with equal and stigma-free access to menstrual products in school washrooms by the end of 2019, just like toilet paper and soap.
Education is the most powerful tool for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. That’s why we’re also focused on ensuring all Indigenous students see themselves reflected in their classrooms. Embedding Indigenous knowledge, history and languages into the curriculum at every grade level, across all areas of learning, has benefited all children and brought the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action to life. It’s encouraging to see Indigenous kids graduating at the highest rate in B.C.’s history, and we’re going to continue working with local Indigenous communities to ensure all Indigenous children thrive in school.
Putting students at the centre of everything we do is starting to pay off, and this is only the beginning.
We couldn’t have done it alone. This Education Week, I’d like us all to applaud the hard work of educators, school administrators, support staff and other partners for helping to build a better, brighter future for all students in B.C.
Rob Fleming is B.C. minister of education and MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake.