Study to fuel debate about B.C. education

Jun 13, 2002, vol. 24, no. 4
By Carol Thorbes

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SFU education professor Peter Grimmett chats with students Megan Dufresne (left) and Nemanja Tacic at Burnaby Mountain secondary school.

A new Canada wide study involving Simon Fraser University could fuel the already explosive debate about education in B.C.

But that isn't deterring SFU education professor Peter Grimmett from pursuing the B.C. part of the Evolution of School Personnel in Canada.

The $2.5 million collaborative project will track the impact of budget cuts, class sizes, curriculum changes, technology and educational reforms on teaching and learning conditions in Canadian public schools over five years.

It will evaluate the classroom competence and performance of 500 kindergarten to Grade 12 teachers, and their interaction with students and education partners.

Researchers at eight Canadian universities, including SFU, and 11 American and European post-secondary institutions are involved in the study.

Grimmett, the study's western Canadian leader, says the study couldn't be more timely in B.C.

“In many ways we are a microcosm of the potential impact of policy on teaching conditions elsewhere,” says Grimmett, the author of studies on educational policy changes in B.C.'s public school system. “Debate is already raging here over the perceived relationships between policies, such as budget cuts, and learning and teaching conditions in classrooms.”

Grimmett says perceived effects like oversized classes and closed schools are becoming particularly acute in B.C., and that's why the results of the study could fuel an ongoing debate.

However, he emphasizes, “The object of this study is not to make pronouncements about how to solve hot button issues.”

Grimmett notes shrinking budgets, retirements, advanced technology, changing parental roles and increasing student diversity have radically changed teachers' classroom reality.

This study will gather “the empirical information that is lacking on how such changes have impacted teaching and learning.”

Schools in five urban centres, Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Saskatoon and Vancouver, will be part of the study.

“We're focusing on urban centres because that is where issues of diversity, multiculturalism and poverty are prevalent in schools,” explains Grimmett.

This is the first educational study to be funded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Council (SSHRC) of Canada's major collaborative research initiative program.

“This research will provide a more complete picture of the state of education in Canada and help shape future policy and teaching,” says SSHRC president Marc Renaud.

Statistics Canada, the Council of Ministers of Education in Canada and the Canadian Teachers' Federation are also involved in the study.

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