Alberta K-6 students will learn about financial literacy, computer science and sexual consent under a new draft curriculum that will pilot this fall.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange unveiled the plan on Mar. 29, which will replace some programs of study that are more than 30 years old.
“In the last election, we heard loud and clear from parents across Alberta that it was time for a renewed focus on essential knowledge and skills,” LaGrange said. That will include things like budgeting, computer coding and public speaking.
Select classrooms will begin teaching the draft curriculum in September and educators and the public will have a chance to provide feedback before a finalized curriculum is rolled out province wide in September 2022.
Students in Grade 2 will learn about ancient Rome, medieval governance and the British Magna Carta, according to the document. First Nations’ traditions and creation stories will be covered in kindergarten, but students won’t learn about treaties until Grade 4 and residential schools until Grade 5.
That counters a recommendation from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that students in all grades — beginning in kindergarten — must learn about treaties and residential schools with age-appropriate material.
LaGrange refused to answer, when asked twice, why the province was not heeding that specific call to action, but said she was proud of the curriculum’s rich First Nations, Métis, and Inuit content.
The minister pointed to literacy, numeracy, citizenship, and practical skills as the draft’s key themes.
In Grade 2 kids will learn about how Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have contributed to today’s world and will be asked to recognize examples of classical architecture and monuments.
In Grade 3, students will learn about prominent Black Albertans, settlements, and contributions.
The new draft comes after work by the former NDP government was taken over by the UCP government.
NDP Opposition education critic Sarah Hoffman said on Mar. 29 the government’s plan replaces old material with outdated approaches that focus on things like memorizing European history.
“I fear that we will be moving backwards in terms of students seeing and feeling that they are reflected in the materials that they’re learning in their classroom,” said Hoffman.
She expressed concern the draft does not see lessons on residential schools and treaties beginning in kindergarten.
“I hope that the government is being honest when they say that they want feedback from people about this draft curriculum, because I’m already getting it,” said Hoffman.
The draft is now online for Albertans to provide input on until spring 2022.
‘It’s a trivial pursuit game’
Dwayne Donald, associate professor of education at the University of Alberta and an expert in Indigenous teaching and curriculum, said the draft shows the government does not trust teachers, and Alberta parents should be alarmed.
Donald said a focus on a timeline of narrow facts turns history into a moral success story without providing students with creative, thoughtful ways to navigate difficult issues like reconciliation and climate change.
“This is a faulty model,” said Donald, who added the draft was negligent and still focused on problematic colonial values.
“The story doesn’t change, it just adds more information,” said Donald.
Carla Peck, a University of Alberta professor who specializes in social studies curriculum, said on Mar. 29 there is more Indigenous content in the latest version than in drafts first leaked to the CBC in the fall, but that’s superficial.
“It’s absolutely nonsensical, and is a rejection of anything we know about how students learn in social studies that is actually supported by research,” said Peck.
She added the draft curriculum lacks social studies skills and concepts, and doesn’t focus on providing meaningful skills to help students make sense of the content and apply it to their lives.
A long list of facts, dates, and names that aren’t meaningfully connected to one another doesn’t help students develop analytical skills they need, she said.
“It’s a trivial pursuit game. What deep understanding does that develop?” said Peck.
LaGrange said that Albertan parents wanted a balanced, factual approach to teaching the province and nation’s history.
“One that confronted honestly the regrettable parts of our past, but also instilled in students an appreciation of the sacrifices made by generations that came before us,” she said.
The province has set $6 million aside this year for resources and teacher professional development for schools taking part in the pilot.
Alberta Teacher’s Association (ATA) President Jason Schilling said on Mar. 29 he’s not sure that’s enough for the task, made especially difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The curriculum for other grades has yet to be developed, and rollout is staggered, with Grades 7 to 10 set to see it fully implemented in 2023, and Grades 11 and 12 in 2024.
ATA launches consultation on new curriculum after feeling shut out of process
The ATA is launching a unique consultation asking all 46,000 Alberta teachers for their feedback on the curriculum proposals before parts of it are piloted this fall.
“We have no faith in this, because we do not know what is going on,” said Jason Schilling, president of the ATA.
“We’ve been asking for months to see drafts of the curriculum, to get more information, to have meetings with the minister to talk about our concerns and be part of the process. But that just hasn’t happened.”
Schilling said the government is missing consultation with professional educators that can give them sound advice on how to implement curriculum that will be successful in today’s society.
Teachers are particularly concerned with the curriculum’s increased expectation around memorizing facts and dates, he said.
“When teachers teach concepts they’ll look at it across grades and see how things link together in terms of concepts and capacities. That might spill over to language arts, math, science, and give students the ability to understand and think critically beyond just learning facts.”
chilling said teachers were shut out of the curriculum review process in August 2019 when the UCP government rescinded a memorandum of understanding that curriculum work would have to include teachers’ full involvement.
In mid-2020, about 100 teachers were invited to provide feedback but Schilling said they were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements, which prevented them from openly discussing curriculum proposals, specific input and whether their feedback was included.
“So those few teachers who had seen the curriculum, they were never able to talk about it or talk about whether the government even considered their feedback.”
Justin Marshall, press secretary for the Education minister, said the government has made a concerted effort to include teachers. Among the 100 invited to give feedback, “the group had a balanced mix of teachers from public, separate, francophone, charter, independent and First Nation schools to reflect the diversity of Alberta’s classrooms.”
Marshall added that the non-disclosure agreements have been a policy of Alberta Education for many years, “including under the previous government.”
But Schilling said the ATA was left in the dark and is now facing a 750-page document to decipher, trying to encourage teachers to go through it as part of the ATA’s consultation.
Draft K-6 curriculum document quietly edited day into public feedback process
Alberta’s K-6 draft curriculum was quietly edited online one day after its release, drawing further disapproval on Mar. 31 from parents and critics over the proposed content and engagement process.
The draft social studies curriculum released Mar. 29 said with freedom of religious practice, “acceptance comes less easily — in part because newcomers bring new and unfamiliar religious faiths and practices.”
An online version reworded the passage and added that “fear of the unknown can be no excuse for intolerance.”
Marshall said the unclear wording was brought to the government’s attention recently.
“The intent of the wording was being misconstrued, so it was updated to make much more clear,” said Marshall in a statement.
At an unrelated news conference on Mar. 31, Premier Jason Kenney said the draft was bound to see changes, but did not address the early edits.
“We’re eager to hear from parents, teachers, subject matter experts and others about how it can be improved, but the key goal must be must be maintained — which is to significantly improve knowledge and skills for students,” he said.
The early tweaks raised questions about the transparency of the public engagement process, which began with an online survey and will include four virtual talks in April and monthly sessions from May to February 2022.
Taylor Schroeter, a parent of two young children in Beaumont, said on Mar. 31 the government’s move was dishonest, confusing and would skew the results of the survey.
“The changing of wording — that’s not a solution. There is no quick fix here.”
She’s one administrator of a Facebook group — Albertans Against the New Curriculum Draft — that attracted more than 15,000 members in less than 48 hours.
Schroeter said the list of concerns from the group is long and growing, but she is also troubled by the lack of any inclusion of LGBTQ issues and the age-inappropriateness of some material.
“I feel like my children need to see that we care, and that I’m not going to sit down and let them be mistreated, which is what this is — this is an injustice to our children to deprive them of the education that they deserve,” she said.
Métis Nation of Alberta calls for rewrite
There were also public calls for a total rewrite of the proposed K-6 curriculum from the Métis Nation of Alberta and the Opposition NDP on Mar. 31.
President Audrey Poitras said on Mar. 31 after working hard to have their voices heard and to make sure their children can see themselves in the curriculum, Métis citizens were shocked and disheartened with the release of the draft.
“It’s just not there … it does seem like a side-note to us,” said Poitras, noting the document seems to confuse First Nations and Métis peoples by using blanket references to Indigenous peoples.
“That’s what our children are going to learn? That’s not appropriate, especially when we’ve had people sit on those committees that have said, ‘You can’t just lump us all together,’ ” she said, adding they hoped to get back to the table with the government.
Marshall said Métis people were not a side-note, that their work and consultation was appreciated, and their ongoing feedback would be welcomed.
He pointed to the curriculum’s inclusion of the oral traditions and stories of the Métis people, as well as units on topics like the travois, traditional knowledge, the fur trade, Louis Riel, and the Red River and North West resistance.
Marshall also noted that a passage in the curriculum claiming Canadian residential schools closed in the 1970s will be clarified to refer to specific Alberta schools, since the last residential school to close was in Saskatchewan in 1996.
Edmonton-area school boards say they won’t pilot Alberta’s draft K-6 curriculum
Some Edmonton-area school boards say their classrooms won’t take part in testing Alberta’s new draft K-6 curriculum in the fall, while others are not committing to it.
Edmonton Public School Board chairwoman Trisha Estabrooks said at a virtual news conference Friday the division was opting out, citing logistical disruptions to learning already wrought by COVID-19, and “serious” concerns about the content of the curriculum.
Estabrooks said she believes LaGrange wants to hear from Albertans on the issue, and called on the government to publicly share the comments it receives from Albertans.
“I think the question that needs to be asked is, will the concerns that have been raised be incorporated into the pilot, prior to the rollover into our classes?” said Estabrooks.
Elk Island Public Schools Superintendent Mark Liguori said the division also will not teach the draft curriculum in its schools in the 2021-22 school year.
In a Friday statement, Ligouri said it will review the document with teachers to give feedback to the province, and come up with its own plan to prepare teachers for mandatory implementation in classrooms, which is scheduled for 2022.
“We’ll wait to see the outcome of the classroom validation process and any updates made as a result of the feedback from Albertans collected in the coming months,” Liguori said.
Marshall said the point of the pilot is to provide in-classrooms feedback to affect potential changes.
“If some school divisions do not wish to pilot, they simply will not be able to provide direct in-classroom feedback on potential changes,” said Marshall.
Hoffman said Friday school boards are right to be concerned about the components some have identified as harmful.
“They care about education, they care about making sure that every child sees themselves in the curriculum,” said Hoffman, who called on the government to go back to the drawing board.
Other school divisions say they’re uncertain about whether or not they’ll sign up.
Corine Gannon, superintendent of learning services at Edmonton Catholic Schools, said in a statement the division will not be committing to piloting the new curriculum, and will work with stakeholders before going back to the government with its thoughts.
“We will spend the next several weeks reviewing and unpacking the new curriculum,” Gannon said.
St. Albert Public Schools spokeswoman Paula Power confirmed the division needs time to review the draft document before considering whether it will sign on to the pilot.
The boards of Lakeland Catholic Schools and Northern Lights Schools have not yet publically discussed the new curriculum as the draft was released after their March meetings.
-With files from Eva Ferguson, Kelly-Anne Riess