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B.C. School System Needs Injection of Truth

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I wouldn’t have a problem with the collective bargaining of teachers if that bargain also involved an open evaluation of the effectiveness of B.C. school teachers, most especially secondary level studies.

B.C. teachers demonstrate against the provincical government in Victoria in 2012. Photograph by: DARREN STONE , PROVINCE
(B.C. teachers demonstrate against the provincical government in Victoria in 2012. Photo Credit DARREN STONE, PROVINCE)

Madame Justice Susan Griffin’s $2M in damages awarded the teachers for the government’s legislation that affected the teachers’ rights to bargain with terms associated to class size, class composition and support for special needs students.

The ruling, in my humble opinion, was correct.

Who’s entitled?

You cannot—or least, should not—legislate against the use of bargaining chips if the chips pertain to the umbrella under which the negotiations fall under. It’s undemocratic and as Justice Griffin pointed out, unconstitutional. Class size and composition are relative to the conditions of a teacher’s working environment, just as books and supplies are, and so, they should be valid considerations.

But the question isn’t just about what you can and cannot argue. The teachers have a part to play in this decades long charade in pursuit of greater benefits and job security. Lets be clear, there’s no victory here despite the Griffin ruling. There’s still a prevalent issue present.

As a former student and a citizen, I most definitely understand the importance of supporting all student needs, this includes paying teachers and support staff what they deserve.

But, in the wake of the world’s worst recession since the depression, the public ought to know where and how its hard-earned, taxed dollars are being spent especially in an era of in an era bemoaning fiscal conservatism. But, frankly, government has demonstrated its wastefulness and a bloated teacher’s union is a part of it.

It’s the deserve caveat I have grown to detest. Just as Baby Boomers and the like label millennials as educated but entitled you-know-whats, the same runs true to our public unions, the teachers no less.

I don’t perceive anything as belonging to me unless I’ve earned it. It’s that simple. That’s my perspective regardless of the era I grew up in. No one is entitled to an $80,000 salary just because a position is occupied for over a decade. You earn a salary based on how well you perform your job. Raises are accumulated through performance, at least in the private sector.

Why should teachers be any different? It’s time the mirror is held up high for the objective to see. There must be recognition that the teats of entitlement stretch farther than the post-secondary youths of today (sorry, that shot has to be there).

I don’t mind paying my due in taxes and helping to pay the salary of those teachers who are truly involved, are good at what they do and maybe even inspire a few souls to reach into a field they may not have pursued otherwise.

But is being realistic ever an option?

I can list off the handful of secondary and elementary school teachers—B.C. teachers—who were great educators. They pushed me forward and helped me grow and develop into the person that I am today. They warrant the raise, the optimal teaching environment (though, even with 30 or so students, they managed to teach and teach well) and all the additional benefits that come with the profession.

However, that only constitutes a handful out of the many instructors that I met throughout my 12 years in the public school system. I can provide names, corresponding Grade of the class and subject of those teachers who were ineffective and this message comes from someone who did care and can provide transcripts to prove it. The point is, there are poor teachers. That is a fact.

The question is how can we weed out the ineffective and replace with effective, maybe even younger, teacher grads. If the system itself won’t take the measures to pragmatically survey the quality of their secondary level teaching (which, if you haven’t already discerned, I place greater value in over middle and elementary, in which stage I think there’s less robust academic teaching required), then the public, i.e. via the government, must put in place a fair and transparent structure to do so.

Or, maybe the future for teaching grads wouldn’t be so bleak if there were better gatekeeping? Perhaps it’s time to rethink who we accept as the educators of our future generations.

Gatekeeping and evaluation

There are some who choose teaching as a fall-back profession. This is an unsaid truth.

Among other requisites, a minimum GPA of 65% among senior level courses in undergraduate studies is all that is required to get into UBC’s Bachelor of Education program. Teaching is a career available even with mediocre post-secondary academic standing.

The gatekeeping isn’t strict by any means, and with that you allow a certain class of individuals. You get the kind that achieve an average or below average standing in post-secondary academics. This in itself points to a specific kind of attitude and loose engagement in academia. Now, I’m not saying you need to be a PhD holder to teach high school science or history or maths—it would certainly help. What, I’m saying is perhaps the loose requirements to becoming a teacher permit a certain percentage of graduates that may not or ever be worthy of secondary level teaching, or teaching at all.

In short, good police know good police (see: The Wire). This applies to teachers just the same. I’m sure quality teachers know who is competent and who is not.

We must start to provide (if we don’t already) some demarcation of effectiveness and take heed of such results to better refine the public school system. It’s to the advantage of our students. But, teachers don’t want to be judged, at least not by the performance of their students. But, how else?

Ben Levin, a professor and Canada Research Chair in Education Leadership and Policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, wrote a frustrating article in 2011. Levin advocated merit pay—paying teachers based on students results—is a bad idea.

Granted, thinking your livelihood is attached to adolescents may be a scary thought. But that’s not the point nor purpose.

I recognize the inherent problem: how can a teacher’s performance be judged upon students that may or may not care themselves when they take a test. In that instance, it’s a fair concern. But I would contend that on average students perform to the best of their ability. If normal ranges—the bell curve—is exhibited then I would argue a teacher is doing their job to a satisfactory degree. Comparing districts and averages will also give another sample of an instructor’s quality of teaching a curriculum. As well, an examination of a classroom’s composition and student history can be viewed to determine if performance is more of a student’s effort than instructing (chances of running into a consistent stream of poor teachers is something I don’t believe, because I do think there are more good than bad instructors).

The idea: publicly available performance reviews. This would involve standardized testing with independent grading. But, here’s the catch: results are binding. This means they are kept on file and can be reviewed for up to a five-year period (or something of that sort), to be visited and/or revisited during regularly scheduled performance reviews. Perhaps annually or bi-annually.

Furthermore, the results, especially in this digital world, should be anonymized and made available to parents and the public on a per district or regional basis.

This would allow parents to see averages throughout the province. But these cannot be simply grades-based. It must be provincial examinations of a standard curriculum, material the student should know at that Grade. Why? Without something independent to base a student’s true knowledge of material, then a teacher can just go through worksheets, useless activities and create a percentage without having to care if the student knows or doesn’t know content.

Brandon graduated from the University of British Columbia with a B.A. in comparative history and a political science minor. After a two-year stint as a compliance researcher at a private financial firm, he moved on to an accelerated journalism program at Langara College. Brandon currently freelances, sharing time at a local startup magazine and content writing.

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Education

New Viking DNA Research Yields Unexpected Information About Who They Were

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In the popular imagination, Vikings were fearsome blonde-haired warriors from Scandinavia who used longboats to carry out raids across Europe in a brief but bloody reign of terror. But the reality is more complex, says SFU Archaeology Prof. Mark Collard.

Collard is a member of an international team of researchers that has just published the results of the world’s largest DNA sequencing of Viking skeletons, in this week’s edition of Nature.

Led by Prof. Eske Willerslev of the Universities of Cambridge and Copenhagen, the research team extracted and analysed\ DNA from the remains of 442 men, women and children.

The remains were recovered from archaeological sites in Scandinavia, the U.K., Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, Estonia, Ukraine, Poland and Russia, and mostly date to the Viking Age (ca. 750-1050 AD).

The team’s analyses yielded a number of findings. One of the most noteworthy is that contrary to what has often been assumed, Viking identity was not limited to people of Scandinavian ancestry—the team discovered that two skeletons from a Viking burial site in the Orkney Islands were of Scottish ancestry.

They also found evidence that there was significant gene flow into Scandinavia from the British Isles, Southern Europe, and Asia before and during the Viking Age, which further undermines the image of the Vikings as ‘pure’ Scandinavians. Another discovery that runs counter to the standard image of the Vikings is that many had brown hair, not blonde hair.

The analyses’ results also shed light on the Vikings’ activities. For example, consistent with patterns documented by historians and archaeologists, the team found that Vikings who travelled to England generally had Danish ancestry, while the majority of Vikings who travelled to Scotland, Ireland, Iceland and Greenland had Norwegian ancestry. In contrast, Vikings who headed east were mostly from Sweden.

Interestingly, says Collard, data revealed a number of close kin among the 442 individuals. Four members of a Viking raiding party interred in a boat burial in Estonia were found to be brothers, while two individuals buried 300 to 400 kilometers apart in Sweden were found to be cousins. Perhaps even more strikingly, the team identified a pair of second-degree male relatives (i.e. half-brothers, nephew-uncle, or grandson-grandfather) from two sites, one in Denmark and one in England.

“We have this image of well-connected Vikings mixing with each other, trading and going on raiding parties to fight Kings across Europe because this is what we see on television and read in books – but genetically we have shown for the first time that it wasn’t that kind of world. This study changes the perception of who a Viking actually was,” says Willerslev. “No one could have predicted these significant gene flows into Scandinavia from Southern Europe and Asia happened before and during the Viking Age.”

Of all the team’s discoveries, Collard is most intrigued by the identification of close kin. “While the ‘big picture’ discoveries are great, I was blown away by the fact that the analyses revealed the presence of four brothers in the Estonian boat burial, and a possible nephew and uncle on either side of the North Sea.” “These findings have important implications for social life in the Viking world, but we would’ve remained ignorant of them without ancient DNA. They really underscore the power of the approach for understanding history.”

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Education

Enver Creek Secondary student awarded largest Canadian STEM scholarship

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For this year, number of scholarships doubles to 100

Tejash Poddar has been selected to receive a $100,000 Schulich Leader Scholarship to study Engineering at Simon Fraser University.

A graduate of Enver Creek Secondary in Surrey, Tejash will be entering the Engineering Science this Fall. He was selected by Ms A. van Dyk for his outstanding academic excellence and leadership achievements.

Given the unparalleled current disruption, there is a much greater need for students to get financial support in order to pursue their university education. This year, The Schulich Foundation has decided to award an additional 50 scholarships, for a total of 100.

“Schulich Leader Scholarships are the premiere STEM scholarship program in Canada and the world. With 100 outstanding students selected in Canada this year, it is all but guaranteed that this group will represent the best and brightest Canada has to offer. These future leaders will make great contributions to society, both on a national and global scale.

With their university expenses covered, they can focus their time on their studies, research projects, extracurriculars, and entrepreneurial ventures. They are the next generation of technology innovators,” says Mr. Schulich.

(When asked):
How did it feel to receive the notice of offer for the scholarship? How will this scholarship help you reach your goals?

(Tejash) :
“It was surreal first hearing the words over the phone – I could barely finish my sentences as I spoke. Looking back at it, everything really is a blur, but I am glad I was able to share the experience with my family around me.”

“I believe that sharing innovation is the key to driving innovation, and I plan to collaborate and grow with the people around me. I am incredibly grateful to be part of the Schulich Leader network, and I look forward to meeting new people and building relations in order to further pursue opportunities in the STEM field.”

About Schulich Leader Scholarships Canada

Recognizing the increasing importance and impact that STEM disciplines will have on the prosperity of future generations, businessman and philanthropist Seymour Schulich established this $100+ million scholarship fund in 2012 to encourage our best and brightest students to become Schulich Leader Scholars: the next generation of entrepreneurial-minded, technology innovators.

Through The Schulich Foundation, these prestigious entrance scholarships are awarded to 100 high school graduates this year, enrolling in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) undergraduate program at 20 partner universities in Canada.

Every high school in Canada can submit one Schulich Leader Nominee per academic year based on academic excellence in STEM, entrepreneurial leadership and financial need.

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Education

Hundreds Enjoy Surrey Libraries EXPO

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Surrey, BC – Hundreds of families joined Surrey Libraries at the inaugural Surrey Libraries EXPO on Saturday January 25th at the Guildford Town Centre to celebrate Family Literacy Day. The EXPO showcased some of the wonderful and varied programs and services offered at Surrey Libraries.

Participants got an opportunity to try their hand at stop motion animation, Dot and Dash Robotics, and have their photo turned into a vintage photo by using green screen technology. There was a mini escape room, and even a pop-up library where people could register for free library cards and borrow books, DVDs, and books on CD.

“This year’s theme for Family Literacy week is ‘Take 20!’ and encourages families to take 20 minutes and make learning together part of every day,” said Mayor Doug McCallum who was there to help kick off the EXPO. “We know literacy is an essential skill that directly impacts people’s quality of life and their ability to earn a good living. That’s why it’s so important to promote literacy and this is where Surrey Libraries plays an essential role in our community.”

Family Literacy Day is a national initiative involving annual literacy-related events and activities held at the end of January to raise awareness of the importance of literacy.

“We’re delighted that so many people came out to explore Surrey Libraries and our diverse programming,” said Surinder Bhogal, Chief Librarian. “The 21st century library offers so much more than books, and Surrey Libraries works to connect people, spark their curiosity and inspire learning.”

Surrey Libraries EXPO is one of many programs and events hosted by Surrey Libraries in support of literacy. More information on Surrey Libraries’ programs and events can be found at: https://surreylibraries.ca/events.

Children enjoying a puppet storytime at the EXPO.

Learning how snail mail worked before electronics.

A family having fun with the green screen technology.

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Education

Surrey Libraries Support Learners Obtain Google IT Support Certificate

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Graduates from the first cohort of the Google IT Support Certificate program along with the Honourable Harry Bains, MLA, Jinny Simms, MLA, and Councillor Mandeep Nagra, just after receiving their certificates on January 24.

Surrey, BC – BC’s tech industry is booming and there aren’t enough people with the skills required to fill the jobs that are available. This is what Google Canada realized and to help remedy the situation, last year they teamed up with Surrey Libraries and three other libraries across Canada to provide scholarships to hundreds of individuals to get trained in the Google IT Support Certificate Program (GISC Program).

Google’s IT Support Professional Certificate is aimed to prepare participants to become ready for an entry-level job in IT support in about eight months, with no experience required. This certificate is part of Grow with Google, an initiative focused on helping everyone across Canada access the best of Google’s training and tools to grow their skills, careers and business.

In addition to identifying students eligible to receive the Google scholarships, Surrey Libraries provided the students with online instruction and in-person learning facilitation by a dedicated Google IT Support Certificate Site Lead Librarian. Scholarships and funding for the Site Lead Librarian were supported through a generous Google.org grant.

The first cohort of 50 learners started the program in April 2019 and so far, 37 students from that group have finished the GISC Program and some have already landed jobs in the tech industry. Learners were provided wraparound supports including learning circles, opportunity to tour a local tech company, as well as presentations and workshops from the City of Surrey’s IT Department, WorkBC, and TLC Solutions.

“This program was very well run and helpful in getting my foot in the door to IT. I received amazing support from Surrey Libraries, and I enjoyed a lot of aspects of how this course was set up and how it was executed.” Said graduating student, Monica Mah “Having other learners to turn to weekly was very helpful in providing motivation, knowledge, and amusement. I feel more confident to be able to look for a job in the IT field.”

“We’re so pleased Surrey Libraries was chosen by Google to help support this program,” said Surinder Bhogal, Chief Librarian at Surrey Libraries. “Surrey is the fastest growing city in British Columbia, with a diverse and talented population. The program also aligns well with one of the library’s objectives to support digital skills development in preparation for a stronger workforce.”

A second set of learners are about to embark on their learning journey in March. People interested in the GISC Program are invited to attend an information session on Wednesday, January 29 at Surrey Libraries – City Centre Branch, Room 402 at 6:30 pm. Call 604-598-7426 to register.

About Surrey Libraries

Surrey Libraries is a valued community institution and one of the most-used community services in Surrey. The library welcomes around 2.7 million visits to our nine branches each year, and over two million visits to our online resources. Surrey Libraries runs hundreds of programs and services for children, youth, and adults to support their diverse learning needs. Serving the community since 1983, Surrey Libraries strives to connect people, spark curiosity, and inspire learning. Find out more about Surrey Libraries and our diverse programming at surreylibraries.ca.

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SFU’s next president eyes “new era of potential”

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University appoints Joy Johnson as its 10th president and vice-chancellor

Simon Fraser University’s Board of Governors has appointed professor Joy Johnson as the university’s next president and vice-chancellor, following an extensive community consultation and international search process.

Johnson, SFU’s current vice-president research and international, will take office on Sept. 1 2020. She succeeds Andrew Petter, who completes his term on August 31 after a decade of distinguished service.

“Over the course of this competitive process, professor Johnson stood out from other candidates for her depth of academic and research experience, commitment to students and enthusiasm for the future of SFU,” says Fiona Robin, chair of SFU’s Board of Governors and chair of the presidential search committee. “We are thrilled to announce that professor Johnson is the successful candidate and look forward to welcoming her into this new role.”

A strong supporter of academic and research excellence, and a leader in nurturing and building community partnerships, Johnson is also committed to vibrant student learning experiences, equity, diversity and inclusion, and Aboriginal reconciliation.

“SFU is a remarkable institution at a remarkable time in its history,” says Johnson, who becomes the university’s second woman president. “We continue to attract world-class students, faculty, and staff, and we are stepping into a new era of potential.”

Johnson, who has been in her current role at SFU since 2014, is widely respected in academic and research communities. Under her leadership, SFU’s research income has grown from $103 million in 2014 to $161 million today, making it the fastest growing research income of any university in Canada.

During her tenure, the university established its innovation strategy—SFU Innovates—launched its big data initiative, secured two Canada 150 chairs and became host to Canada’s most powerful academic supercomputer. The university also became a founding partner in the City of Surrey’s burgeoning Health and Technology District and established collaborative research partnerships around the world.

“I love being part of SFU—so much is possible here as we develop new learning opportunities, enhance student support and services, expand our facilities, strengthen our research infrastructure, and forge new partnerships,” says Johnson. “It’s my great privilege to have the opportunity to serve as President and Vice-Chancellor, and I look forward to getting started.”

BACKGROUND

Johnson completed her PhD in nursing at the University of Alberta, and is a former professor in the University of British Columbia’s School of Nursing.

Before joining SFU, Johnson had an impressive academic and research career in the health sciences. Her research focused on how environments and social dynamics influence health outcomes and opportunities, particularly among youth.

Her commitment to research led to her role as scientific director with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Gender and Health, setting the institute’s strategy and building opportunities for researchers.

Johnson is an elected Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (2019).

She is the co-author of more than 180 peer-reviewed manuscripts and has led several initiatives that mobilized research insights to influence practice and policy.

Read more about Joy Johnson

About Simon Fraser University:

As Canada’s engaged university, SFU works with communities, organizations and partners to create, share and embrace knowledge that improves life and generates real change. We deliver a world-class education with lifelong value that shapes change-makers, visionaries and problem-solvers. We connect research and innovation to entrepreneurship and industry to deliver sustainable, relevant solutions to today’s problems. With campuses in British Columbia’s three largest cities – Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey – SFU has eight faculties that deliver 193 undergraduate degree programs and 127 graduate degree programs to more than 35,000 students. The university now boasts more than 160,000 alumni residing in 143 countries.

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