School districts will be able to determine their own calendar and offer online classes to students in any grade under amendments to the School Act presented Thursday.
Education Minister George Abbott said the changes are designed to increase flexibility for schools and students. The ministry will continue to require a minimum number of instructional hours, but school boards will be able to design their own calendars.
Abbott said the standard school calendar is a relic of an agrarian society where children did farm work in summer. A two-month summer break can result in setbacks for student learning, especially those who are struggling to keep up, he said.
Abbott cited Kanaka Creek elementary school in Maple Ridge, which uses a modified calendar with shorter breaks through the year instead of the standard September-to-June model. That has been popular with students, parents and teachers, and academic results have been encouraging, Abbott said.
“What we now have is a pretty strong case that children learn better when they don’t have a long summer break, that a shorter period when they’re away from school is better,” Abbott said.
Online courses are currently only allowed for grades nine and up. The amendments allow the option for any course in elementary or middle school.
Abbott said that change is not designed to encourage home schooling, but rather to offer options to students that aren’t available in smaller schools. Online learning has taken off in B.C., from 5,000 students using it five years ago to about 30,000 today, he said.
School districts will have to holds consultations with the public and staff before changing the school calendar, and the ministry has to approve changes before they can take effect.