BC Schools taking computing seriously

by Alan Zisman (c) 1998. First published in Vancouver Computes, October 1998

For all you parents, teachers, and students out there, September means back to school time.

But if you?re a parent or a student in a BC elementary or secondary school, you might be surprised to discover that September is supposed to be back to computer time as well.

That?s because the BC Ministry of Education has mandated that Information Technology be a required course for all students, from Kindergarten to Grade 10. (In Grades 11 and 12, it is an elective course that can count as a science or an applied skill).

But you might be further surprised when you see the first report card that in many or most cases, it?s not reported. That?s because, at the same time that the Ministry made the Info Tech K-10 curriculum mandatory, it was not made a separate subject. Instead, the several hundred Instructional Learning Outcomes (or ILOs as they?re referred to in edu-speak) are supposed to be integrated into the existing subject areas.

The result, presumably, is that Johnny and Mary will be learning Information Technology skills by using computers and the Internet while doing math and science, art and language arts. But that also means that as a parent, student, or interested member of the community, you may have to do a little digging to find out what?s really going on in your school.

You may want to ask a few questions of your teacher or principal.

  • Does the school have an organized computer program? How is it set up? Is there a teacher responsible for it?
  • How many computers does the school have? How are they distributed? Is there a computer lab, that all students have access to at set times? Are there computers in the library? In classrooms? Are there enough computers for students to get realistic amounts of access?
  • Do students have access to the Internet? Is there enough Internet access that students can use it for research when they need it? (Worrying about limiting kids access to sex and violence over the Internet is far less important that finding a way to get them access to begin with).
  • What is your individual teacher?s comfort level with computers and the Net? The Info Tech K-10 curriculum seems to imply that every teacher will be integrating the learning outcomes into her/his teaching?but if the school gives every students access to a computer lab run by a specialist teacher, this will be less important. Is the school organizing professional development to improve teacher comfort levels and skills in these areas?
  • How will the school be communicating to parents about its Info Tech program? Some elementary schools are sending home an addition to the report cards discussing what students have accomplished in this area?just like with music, art or  other less-formal subject areas.
  • Will the students be learning basic skills like keyboarding? Opening and saving files? Using the Clipboard for copy and paste?

There has been a lots of progress in this area. Many schools and districts have responded to the new curriculum in positive ways. Many parent committees have engaged in fund-raising to enable the purchase of hardware.

The Provincial government has created PLNet?the Provincial Learning Network, as an initiative to try and provide Internet access to every student in BC. It?s just in the beginning stages?schools and districts should have plans to provide access on their own in the meantime.

At the same time, there are institutional barriers. The Province doesn?t recognize computer labs as ?enrolling space?, and doesn?t directly provide funding for elementary schools to hire computer teachers. As a result, according to the Vancouver School Board?s Director of Information Technology Karl Jones, ?There is a lot of debate about the role labs play in schools?.the District is likely to be promoting the use of smaller learning centres in classrooms, due to the trend in that direction in the curriculum.?

But when computers are spread out throughout the school, more depends on the comfort, knowledge, and desire of the individual classroom teacher, and too often there are not enough computers in any one place for students to gain basic skills or to use computers as more than an expensive frill.

Vancouver?s Jones however, suggests that labs are just one option of several. ?There are other choices. There are some very good curriculum packages (not just software, but complete teaching packages for teachers) that work best in classrooms with a few computers each?. He concludes (and I?d agree): ?Having someone set a clear direction in how teaching and learning are served by whatever technology is in the school is the most important thing?.

Computers are expensive?it?s often difficult, in financially-strapped times to make decisions between technology, books, or even paper and chalk. And while most of us know that students need to be comfortable with technology, throwing money at technology isn?t enough. Schools, districts, and individual teachers need to have a clear vision of how they?re going to be using computers and the Net in a way that?s educationally worthwhile.

(I have a vested interest in these questions. As a computer-using teacher in Vancouver, this Fall I?m starting a new job working with computers in an East Vancouver elementary school. I?ll let you know what I discover).

Search WWW Search www.zisman.ca

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan