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OUTLOOK: Education that goes the distance

David Manuel, principal at Fraser Valley Distance Education.  - Jenna Hauck/ Progress
David Manuel, principal at Fraser Valley Distance Education.
— image credit: Jenna Hauck/ Progress

Education is changing in B.C. and Fraser Valley Distance Education is well positioned for that change.

The top education buzzwords right now are 21st century learning and personalized learning – both of which FVDES already employ.

And well.

While Chilliwack school district may be relatively small compared to Vancouver and Surrey, it tops the charts for distance learning.

Out of 55 public DL sites and 18 private ones in B.C., Chilliwack is number two for choice, just slightly behind Vancouver’s enrollment.

“This school has emerged as one of the leaders for DL,” said school principal David Manuel.

Twenty years ago, when FVDES first opened under the wing of the school district, “there was insight in Chilliwack this model of education needed to grow.”

Last year the school had just shy of 1,000 full-time students, 3,000 total students, and 50 staff.

“Students are benefiting all over the province because of us,” said Manuel. “The DL world has opened education up – there are no restrictions.”

The BC Education Ministry agrees.

The ministry’s Education Plan has zeroed in on technology and the need to make education more relevant to reflect the world students now live in – meaning the traditional bricks and mortar style school is no longer the only school of choice.

“We’re learning that the one-size-fits-all model is not the way to go anymore,” said Manuel.

The ministry of education is making plans to enable students in every grade, from kindergarten to Grade 12, to cross-blend their learning, give them options to take courses at public schools, independent schools, and online all at the same time if they so desire.

Again, Fraser Valley Distance Ed already shines in that area. Eighty per cent of its student body comes from cross enrollment.

“We have a heap of students in grades 10 to 12 taking one to two courses,” said Manuel.

That’s what DL is all about – providing students, regardless of their abilities, with more options, more flexibility, more personalized learning to their specific needs, said Manuel.

It’s not just the B.C. market taking notice of FVDES.

The school’s DL expertise has also been sought after by the Commonwealth of Learning, an intergovernmental organization that was created by Commonwealth Heads of Government, that’s helping less-developed countries improve access to quality education via distance learning.

Last year the school’s principals were contacted to share their knowledge in DL. They’ve since traveled to Africa, India and Belize, of which the expenses were paid for by the Commonwealth, and in December, they welcomed delegates from Belize into Chilliwack to learn from Chilliwack processes, Chilliwack administration, and Chilliwack teachers.

“We have the potential to push the boundaries with the way we teach in DL,” said Manuel. “I really believe we are positioned to be at the forefront of the change in education.”

Which means, “the more choices you have for kids, the more engaged they’re going to be.”

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