Thursday, 14 February 2013

BC's 21st Century Education Agenda--analysis

The British Columbia government has embarked on what they describe as a "transformation" of K-12 education in the province. 

Unlike "reform" programs in the U.S., the reform movement in B.C. is not based on claims that the schools are failing.  In fact, the K-12 system is characterized as high performing in the international assessments such as the OECD's PISA and most recently the PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study).   Canada scores among the top countries and B.C. generally scores above the Canadian average.
Why, then, a demand for transforming the education system?
The impetus for this reform is a policy document called A Vision for 21st Century Education released in 2010.  It was the product of the BC Premier's Technology Council and was adopted as government policy by the premier of the day, Gordon Campbell.
Cory (Tobey) Steeves wrote his Master of Arts thesis as an analysis of this policy document:  (De/Re)--Constructing teachers and their work:  A discourse analysis of British Columbia's 21st-century policy agenda.
Steeves points out that the focus of the Technology Council report is on the practice of teaching, yet no teachers or education scholars were involved in drafting of the report.  In fact, the voices and values of teachers were marginalized in its development and the planning of its implementation.
The significance of the thesis is in clearly laying out the explicit and implicit directions for the work of teachers in the report and pointing out the inevitable conflict with the values and ideals of teachers.  The thesis has relevance beyond British Columbia as well in that versions of the "21st century skills" agenda for education are being promoted globally, not just in B.C.  Many of those promoting that agenda are the same technology corporations and foundations seen in B.C.

In fact, a human capital agenda of global competition is cited by the technology lobby as the reason that a high quality education system has to be transformed into a high tech education system.
In his discourse analysis, Steeves identifies two concepts central the transformation based on technology:  "learnification," which is essentially focusing education on skills rather than content, and "accountingization," which reduces education objectives and evaluation to an external, technocratic, audit-based numbers game.

Steeves uses a number of approaches to looking at the word choice in the Vision document that define the conception of teachers as technicians and teaching "transformed into a technical relay to achieve predetermined economic goals."  (p. 58)  In this vision, "teachers' work is (only) appropriately aimed at distributing skills to students." (p.58)
Steeve contrasts this "21st century skills" vision of the values and role of teachers with one that he prefers and believes is the dominant view among teachers:  teaching for democratic citizenship rather than being focused primarily on economic objectives.  He concludes the thesis with a call for teachers to "have meaningful influence over policies that regulate the horizons of their work" and for "teachers' resistance to the siren call of deceptively packaged policies." (p. 69)

Premier's Technology Council.  (2010). A vision for 21st century education.  Vancouver, BC

Steves, C.  (2012).  (De/Re)--Constructing teachers and their work:  A discourse analysis of British Columbia's 21st--century policy agenda.  Unpublished thesis--University of British Columbia.


  1. "21st Century Learning" was a MARKETING SCHEME invented by IT corporations, then echoed by every entity that benefits FINANCIALLY from this initiative. As parents we are tired of young children being baby-sat by iPads and computer screens in schools. Instead of apps, it is human interaction with the teachers which truly "engages" the senses of our kids, and stimulates their imagination. Technology can be a good tool if used appropriately, but corporate-incited entities have put it ahead of true learning. This NY Times article reveals that the most popular private school in Silicon Valley was the No-Tech Waldorf School.
    One Google Exec said, “The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous.” Paul Thomas, a former teacher and an associate professor of education at Furman University, who has written 12 books about public educational methods: “a spare approach to technology in the classroom will always benefit learning.”

    “Teaching is a human experience,” he said. “Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.”

  2. I'm looking forward to having enough hours in the week to finally finish reading Tobey's thesis - he is one of the most critical critical thinkers out there on the subject of so-called 21st century learning. Would recommend this to anyone interested in teaching and education.