By Lyonel Doherty
The B.C. government last week released without any fanfare the long-awaited Rural Education Report outlining various key findings and recommendations.
The report, headed by Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson, was only completed to draft stage when her B.C. Liberal government was defeated last May.
It was kept under wraps by the current NDP government, which only released a heavily redacted (censored) version in response to a freedom of information request.
Earlier this month, in response to concerns raised by Osoyoos councillor Mike Campol, the board of School District 53 and the Town of Osoyoos sent letters to Premier John Horgan calling for its release.
The resounding theme from last year’s public engagement was that schools are the cornerstones of rural communities that should be preserved and strengthened.
That was clearly witnessed in Osoyoos two years ago when the community rallied to save its high school from closure.
One key finding in the report says that rural students don’t have the same level of access to educational programs as their urban counterparts. The pairing recommendation is to develop strategies to close the urban-rural gap in educational offerings and outcomes.
The report recommends supporting rural schools to build on local strengths and develop innovative programming tailored to the surrounding community.
The report also identifies the lack of access to specialist services, long travel times and cost as contributing to long wait times for special needs assessments.
Improving access to technology and better preparing students for post-secondary, career and life transitions are other recommendations highlighted.
Another key finding is that rural districts are having difficulty recruiting and retaining qualified staff. The recommendation is to implement a strategic recruitment program to attract teaching professionals to rural schools.
The report says that stable and predictable funding is critical to education. But it acknowledges that funding based primarily on enrolment does not reflect the higher cost of delivering programs in rural areas.
One key recommendation is to help boards of education to “keep schools open where it makes educational sense to do so, and where communities may be adversely impacted by closure.”
Another recommendation is to provide targeted funding outside of regular operating grants to address unique rural issues, such as transportation and housing.
High priority themes identified in the report include support for staff recruitment and retention, and support for trades programming. The former includes relocation/moving expenses and travel assistance for new teachers.