Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister Peter Fassbender have ruled out binding arbitration

Factory model fading for schools

As BCTF continues old-style labour tactics, textbooks and courses are going online and curriculum is changing for a new era

VICTORIA – The B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s latest demand, for binding arbitration on selected pocketbook issues of its members, is going nowhere.

This follows months of the union’s insistence on mediation. First a B.C. Supreme Court judge met with both sides and walked away. Then the BCTF’s preferred choice, Vince Ready, agreed that mediation won’t fix the current version of the mess he last examined in 2007.

BCTF president Jim Iker announced the arbitration gambit on Friday, in one of the webcasts he uses to rally the union’s exhausted membership. Education Minister Peter Fassbender replied that with five minutes’ notice to the government’s chief negotiator and lacking specifics on what would be subject to arbitration, the proposal would forfeit the government’s mandate to control costs.

“This government will not raise taxes in order to provide a settlement to one union that does not reflect what the other public sector has done,” Fassbender said.

In short, there will be a negotiated settlement, eventually. The union chose to begin the strike, and now must find a way to end it.

The government’s position in this dispute is unlike any of the many that preceded it. And it points the way to an evolution of education that cannot be stopped.

The announcement of a $40-a-day payment for days lost during a fall strike for children under 13 was greeted with scorn by the BCTF and its echo chambers. Parents won’t be bribed, they want school, not daycare, it’s an insult, went the refrain.

By this week, nearly 80 per cent of eligible parents had enrolled, faced with pickets at their schools and real and mounting child care and tutoring costs. The union executive said members who are parents should refuse the money.

Some B.C. teachers have begun advertising tutoring services online. With distance learning and other online education options expanding in all 60 public school districts, the digital revolution is unfolding quickly.

The B.C. government made a couple of announcements in April, one about moving to digital versions of textbooks and another about a digital merger of 1,600 school libraries with public and post-secondary schools. Growth of options accelerates.

Largely drowned out by the noise of 1970s-style industrial labour strife, the B.C. public school curriculum is being refashioned for this new age. Among its goals is to “allow teachers and students the flexibility to personalize their learning experience to better meet each student’s individual strengths and needs.”

One of B.C.’s early models for self-directed learning is Thomas Haney secondary in Maple Ridge, where senior high students are expected to make their own way through course work, learning to manage their own time.

It was here that the first couple of Grade 12 students showed up last week to begin making up for lost time from the strike that set in last spring. Self-directed study has become a crash course.

Private schools are also swamped with applications from Grade 12 students looking for particular courses they will need by next year.

In the short term, Fassbender says the lost strike days will likely have to be restored to the school schedule.

“Do you put it on at the end of the year? Do you take it out of spring break? Do you take it out of Christmas holidays? My staff are looking at all of the options,” Fassbender said.

In the longer term, the whole factory model of school is on the way out.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc