By: Vicheth Sen (2017)
Vicheth Sen is originally from Cambodia. He obtained an M.A. in International Peace Studies from the United Nations Mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica, an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Linguistics from the Regional Language Centre in Singapore. He is currently completing his PhD at the Department of Educational Studies at UBC. He has several years of experience teaching undergraduate and graduate students at the Royal University of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. He also has some years of experience working as a researcher at the Cambodia Development Resource Institute, a development policy research institute in Cambodia. Vicheth’s main research interests include social mobility, higher education governance and state-university relations, and social finance and privatization of/in public education.
The launch of BC’s Education Plan has attracted both excitement and criticism from scholars, practitioners, and education communities across the province. At the core of the new Education Plan is technology-oriented personalized learning. The move towards this model of learning is not an isolated phenomenon. It is encapsulated in a broader corporate school reform movement underpinned by a taken-for-granted neoliberal mindset. An important policy change in BC along this line began with the introduction of the School Amendment Act of 2012 (or Bill 36) that encourages and enables market-oriented thinking and practices in the provision and funding of K–12 education programs and services (Fallon & Poole, 2014; Poole & Fallon, 2015).
My analysis of BC’s Education Plan (Sen, 2016) indicates that the vision for education in BC is predominantly re-conceptualized in terms of economic outcomes, which redefines the purpose of education, the pedagogical practices, and the roles of teachers, students, and parents. The new vision for education could potentially contribute to transforming public education into a marketplace in which education is primarily meant to serve as a private good.
Technology-based personalized learning as a practice promotes patterns of thinking and logics that place an emphasis on individualism, self-interest, private choice, and consumption of education. The general public are (re-)oriented to the discourses and practices that education could be turned into a customizable consumer product for the different needs of individual learners. The notion of “learning” is reduced to a list of skills; the significant importance of socio-cultural contexts in teaching and learning is trivialized. The crucial role of the teacher is minimized from that of an educated professional as a source of social and moral values to that of merely a coach or facilitator of the learning process. Students and parents are nothing more than consumers of educational products and services. What is under-emphasized in the Education Plan is citizenship, democracy, social justice and equity.
While some might prefer this customized approach to education, it is of significant importance to note that learning itself is a complex social process beyond merely acquiring a set of ideal, pre-packaged skills and attributes that a learner wants or needs. Therefore, as we move forwards with the new Education Plan, a crucial question that we all should be contemplating is: In what kind of society do we want our future generations to grow up? In pondering this question, all concerned individuals and communities should engage critically with the new Education Plan.
Fallon, G., & Poole, W. (2014). The emergence of a market-driven funding mechanism in K-12 education in British Columbia: Creeping privatization and the eclipse of equity. Journal of Education Policy, 29(3), 302-322. doi:10.1080/02680939.2013.820354
Poole, W., & Fallon, G. (2015). The emerging fourth tier in K-12 education finance in British Columbia, Canada: Increasing privatization and implications for social justice. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 13(3), 339-368. doi:10.1080/14767724.2014.996857
Sen, V. (2016). Towards customized privatization in public education in British Columbia: The provincial education plan and personalized learning. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 180, 135-168.