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5.2 Core Competencies: “Soft Skills” for a Hard World

My teaching career has taken me on adventures across Canada and New Zealand, and I’ve had the opportunity to teach at high schools, K-12 schools, junior high schools, a community college, a non-profit organization, and at a university (transfer credit program and workshop facilitator). Some of these experiences were in BC, as I’ve moved in and out of this province several times now, so I’ve been watching the social change and the curricular action with keen interest. Having seen the education sector from just about every angle, I’m starting to understand how movement at the provincial level opens possibilities for innovative teaching and learning in schools, and how all of it relates to shifts in the ways that society views education and the purpose of schools.

“The principle goal of education is to create men [and women!] who are capable of doing new things; not simply repeating what other generations have we need pupils who are active, who learn early to find out by themselves, partly by their own spontaneous activity and partly through material we set up for them” (Piaget, as cited in Duckworth, 1964, p. 175).

I’ve always believed that schools should help families in preparing students to take their place in the modern world. That was the reason I earned my undergraduate degrees and that’s what I expect for my own two teenagers. Yet as a mom, teacher, and citizen, I’ve noticed that unless society values “soft skills” over academic success as preparation for the real world, our young adults may have a rough transition into independent adult life. The reality of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is that we are trying to prepare young people for jobs that don’t yet exist that will involve technology that has not yet been invented (see Forbes article, referenced below). In other words, we need to foster the “soft skills” of independent, self-regulated learners who can work in fast-paced collaborative environments with a high degree of critical thinking skills and ethical consideration of others and our environment. Are BC schools adequately adjusting to the needs of our youth?

Big changes to British Columbia’s Curriculum and Assessment frameworks have been underway for more than a decade now. There is a strong desire in our province to move toward more student-centered learning designs, and the province seems to have taken the “go slow to go far” approach to give teachers the time needed to examine their own pedagogies and develop learning activities that meet the needs of their students. Innovation takes time if it is to produce lasting results.

Peterson’s case study (2023) helped me to get the “wide focus” on these changes and put my “zoomed in” concentration on Core Competencies into greater perspective (Thank you to Maureen MacMillan for sharing the citation in her excellent blog post Curriculum Changes in British Columbia). Peterson tracks the provincial and district level changes to curriculum frameworks and assessment in BC from 2011 to present and makes some interesting observations about the necessity of teachers, both individually and collectively, to examine their own practice and pedagogies. She examines the ways in which the curriculum reform indicates a growing recognition that student engagement improves in response to student-centered curricular designs as opposed to subject-centered and teacher-dependent ones. This finding echoes Martin’s (1996) observation that the sheer volume of our cultural wealth makes it so difficult for high school teachers to break out of subject silos.

‘The question “What should be taught?” is appallingly difficult to answer precisely because the pool of potential subject matter is so large that no one can hope to teach or learn everything in it.” (Martin, 1996, p. 4).

The broad changes in BC Curriculum and Assessment frameworks have been guided by educators, not officials or politicians, and give teachers leeway from restrictive content standards to develop their own connections. In my humble opinion, these are the game-changers because they open doors for post-secondary success:

Core Competencies underpin all curricular content

Big Ideas encourage inquiry-based and project-based learning

Assessment as Learning, centralized literacy and numeracy, reported as proficiencies

Graduation program focusses on strategies for self-regulated learning and inquiry

Culturally responsive teaching which increases engagement

Inclusion based on presumed competency

In 5 Key Changes in BC’s New K-12 Curriculum: What are the Implications for Post-Secondary? Leisel Knaack outlines the ways in which BC’s post-secondary institutions have welcomed and adjusted to these changes. She notes that many PSE programs require demonstration of attributes that reflect and extend the Core Competencies. Since the K-12 curriculum focusses more on “doing” and less on “knowing,” she surmises that PSE entrants will be better equipped with the skills and strategies needed for learning at a high level. She believes that “a more fulsome experience of Aboriginal perspectives and knowledge” (5 Key Changes, 2017) will also be hugely beneficial to post-secondary students. Most of the discussion about the K-12 program is around the use of proficiencies to new Graduation Program in terms of admission requirements. This is hardly surprising, given that the proficiency scale is also the topic of much discussion at the K-12 level.

Do we have a long way to go? Absolutely. We need to insist on Structured Literacy practices that replace outdated, ineffective methods of teaching children to read at the word level (i.e. decoding.) Please check out my last post, STILE for 21st Century Learning, where I point out the counter-productive language in the English Language Arts curriculum.

But are we headed in the right direction? Absolutely.


5 Key Changes in BC’s New K-12 Curriculum: What are the Implications for Post-Secondary? – The CIEL Blog. (2017, December 28).

5.1 Science- and Trauma-Informed Literacy Education for 21st Century Learning. (2023, August 10). Literacy to Learn.

Duckworth, E. (1964). Piaget rediscovered. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 2(3), 172–175.

Joshi, N. (2022, March 31). Understanding Education 4.0: The Machine Learning-Driven Future Of Learning. Forbes.

Martin, J. R. (1996). There’s Too Much to Teach: Cultural Wealth in an Age of Scarcity. Educational Researcher, 25(2), 4–16.

McMillan, M. (2023, July 30). Post 5: Curriculum changes in British Columbia.

Peterson, Amelia. (2023). “Education Transformation in British Columbia”. Center for Universal Education at Brookings.


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