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BC review of teacher training included $16K for teen researcher

Author: 
jsteffenhagen

As noted in my last post, several reviews of teacher education are underway as part of an effort to transform K-12 education.

These are occurring at the Education Ministry, the Association of B.C. Deans of Education (ABCDE) and the B.C. Teachers’ Council, the body responsible for setting standards for education, certification, conduct and competence. An SFU Task Force on Teacher Education for the 21st Century has also completed a study on the topic.

But in a move that shocked many, the ministry has also hired a recent high-school graduate to offer advice. We now know, as a result of a freedom of information request, that Anjali Vyas, 19, was paid $16,000 for two contracts, one in 2012 and another in 2013.

As was reported in the Vancouver Sun in September, ministry official Rick Davis met Vyas in 2012 while she was dejaying at a wedding reception. Davis, impressed with her enthusiasm for education reform, offered her a contract to travel to Finland to study teacher education programs in that country. The second contract requires her to share her findings with education deans and the general public.

The Sun story quotes Vyas as saying the ministry was pleased with her research. “My hope is that my contract will result in a new teacher education program,” she told the newspaper.

Her report has not yet been made public or shared with the deans or the B.C. Teachers’ Council so we don’t know whether taxpayers got value for money. But news of the contracts, awarded without tender, caused a fury on Twitter and in the blogosphere.

Why would the ministry send a 19-year-old high school grad to Finland to research a topic that has already been explored by many teachers and academics, E.Wayne Ross, a professor in the UBC Curriculum and Pedagogy Department, asked in a blog post titled BC Ministry of Education looks to a 19-year-old to revolutionize education (not a joke).

A second post was titled Would BC Libs send Port Mann bridge drivers to Europe to research professional education of engineers?

Details of the Vyas contracts were posted this month on B.C.’s Open Information website, in response to two FOI requests.

The first contract provides general guidelines about the interviews she was to conduct in Finland and Canada in 2012 while the second, from July to December 2013, requires her to:

- “Provide research and planning support for the ministry’s engagement of B.C.’s nine university teacher development faculties” (including a written analysis by the end of August comparing B.C.’s teacher education programs with those in Finland).

- “Prepare and deliver a presentation on Finland’s teacher development model to the Association of BC Deans of Education”.

- “Support the ministry’s citizen, student and parent engagement strategy, including contributing to related multimedia resources produced by the ministry.”

It would be fair to conclude that province’s nine education deans aren’t exactly holding their breath awaiting her report.

One of the reports from the SFU task force on teacher education already offers a comparison of B.C. training programs with those in Finland.

There are a few interesting parallels between Finland and British Columbia," the report reads. "Like Finland, British Columbia has a high concentration of its population near a few metropolitan centers, with a much smaller portion of the population scattered widely through the remaining territory. And, like Finland, British Columbia has fared well on recent international tests. But there are also significant differences. For example, although Finnish universities offering teacher education programs have significant autonomy over the details of their programs, there is considerable coordination between them regarding recruitment and selection of candidates. Still, while keeping in mind such structural and historical differences, as well as differences in the social, cultural and political contexts, there are a number of lessons from Finland that teacher education programs in British Columbia may wish to consider." Find the rest of the 120-page report here.

Meanwhile, Kris Magnusson, ABCDE president and SFU's education dean, said the association is discussing with Finnish educators the possibility of holding a symposium in Vancouver next year to compare the two education systems. While B.C. educators have high regard for the Finnish model, Finnish educators have expressed an interest in learning how B.C. handles cultural and economic diversity, Magnusson said in an interview. (Finland has one of the highest standards of living in the world and its population is far more homogeneous than Canada’s, with only 2.7 per cent of residents foreign-born compared to 20 per cent in this country. But immigration is increasing in Finland.)

Magnusson hopes the symposium could compare a day in the life in a Finnish school to a day in the life of an East Vancouver school.

On a related topic: The latest PISA results, comparing the education performance of 15-year-old students around the world, will be released Dec. 3. This year's report focuses on math literacy, an area where B.C. has traditionally done well but slipped slightly in the last such assessment in 2009. Was that a blip?

 

REMINDER: I am a guest blogger with the BCCPAC. Opinions expressed here do not represent the views of the Confederation and information is not necessarily endorsed by the board or its members.

 

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