Class size a local issue, ministry says

Provincial ministries won't weigh in on tech-ed class sizes, but one Chilliwack school trustee sees opportunity for review.

The provincial government won’t get involved with province-wide concerns over shop class sizes – despite its current push for an increased interest in careers in trades.

In an emailed statement to The Progress, the Ministry of Education outlined several initiatives for boosting youth interest in trades careers, but stated that “conversations on specific class sizes are determined at the local level between teachers, principals, and district superintendents.”

According to the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, one of its key goals is to increase the number of students going directly into trades and technical training after graduation by 50 per cent – from 4,000 to 6,000 annually. In that, it’s working on several initiatives, including one that specifically targets middle school aged students.

The ministry’s comments follow revelations made last week in The Progress that award-winning industrial education teacher Eric Munshaw was resigning. After years of trying to advocate for better safety practices, he said he’d lost confidence in the education system.

His story generated province-wide attention with other media outlets, including interviews with CBC, CKNW and Global News. As well, as of Wednesday, The Progress website had 57 comments from concerned teachers, parents, and past students from around the province.

Munshaw thinks the ministry’s response is a missed opportunity. Without enough equipment and supervision to accommodate overcrowded classrooms, the province is in fact losing students, he said.

For years, shop classes ranged between 20 and 24 students in rooms designed for 24 work stations. But because class size regulations were never officially stipulated, when Bill 33 was passed by the Ministry of Education in 2009, the number of students increased across the province.

Bill 33, among other things, enabled class size in grades 4-7 to exceed 30 students with teacher consent, and in grades 8-12 with teacher consultation.

Munshaw calls that practice questionable. Some teachers, he said, feel pressured into agreeing to larger class sizes regardless of safety.

“We’re kneecapping the education system,” he said. “We’ve got classes so loaded, kids are lining up, they’re frustrated, they’re bored because they can’t get onto the equipment. We’re dumbing down the educational experience to the point kids don’t want to pursue it.”

He doesn’t understand why the provincial government and district policy makers won’t take action.

“Trades is the economic driver for our province – it would be stupid not to support it,” he said.

Munshaw’s actions have got the attention of at least one Chilliwack school trustee.

Newly elected school trustee Dan Coulter, who, himself, was paralyzed from the waist down in a workplace accident, and who ran on a platform of both trades, and class size and composition, intends to investigate the concerns further.

“I’d hate to see safety compromised,” said Coulter.

“I can see how in other classes those larger class sizes not being as crucial, but for a shop class, you could almost make that an exception… especially if a shop class has only been designed for 24 students.”


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