Alberta Education pushing back elementary curriculum updates to 2021-22
EDMONTON -- As the education ministry, school divisions, staff and families ready themselves for an as-normal-as-possible return to classes in the fall, the government says it is also working on the next steps of its plan to revamp the K-12 curriculum.
However, the revamp is being pushed back.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said Thursday her department had passed a new ministerial order that would give vision and guidance to the government’s expanded overhaul of the K-6 curriculum, now due to be piloted in 2021.
According to the minister, the resulting curriculum will emphasize “civic values, core knowledge and the outcomes students need to succeed both in school and throughout life,” with numeracy and literacy at the forefront.
“To me there are two portals in education that if either falters, kids’ education will falter and their work potential will falter,” commented Angus McBeath, the chair of a panel tasked by the government with reviewing Alberta’s primary school system.
In January, his panel put forward more than two dozen recommendations, including standardized testing in Grades 1-5 and integrated work learning opportunities like apprenticeships.
“Those two portals are literacy and numeracy,” McBeath said Thursday. “We think they’re so important they should be part of every subject that gets taught in school.”
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According to LaGrange, the overhaul would also remove an “ideological bent” that existed in the previous version.
When asked for an example of biased teachings, she recalled an assessment sent to her by a parent: “The correct answer was contrary to actually the truth of what is out there in terms of environmental studies that are out there.”
The ministry later provided CTV News Edmonton with a copy of the test question. It asks: "Which of the following is one of the valid arguments against Oil Sands development? A. Oil sands development means destruction of tracts of forest. B. Oil sands development means lack of investment opportunities. C. Oil sands development decreases the creation of jobs. D. Oil sands development means more spending on local businesses."
LaGrange's press secretary, Colin Aitchison, said it was one of several instances of bias in classrooms the government has been told of.
As other examples of educational bias, the ministry also provided a partial copy of an email from a parent who said their child had been told oil and gas exploration was "raping the land," a presentation slide depicting the political spectrum from egalitarianism to nationalism, and a tweet by the NDP's LGBTQ2S+ Issues and Status of Women critic, Janis Irwin, in which she wrote there is room for "the perspectives of groups like Extinction Rebellion in our classrooms, just as there's room for the perspectives of industry."
The president of the Alberta Teachers' Association told CTV News Edmonton he is worried about the language used by the government.
"In the way that it mixes up curriculum like what is taught and how it's taught pedagogy," Jason Schilling commented.
"Let teachers do the work they do. They work with kids, they know how to teach, so let them be the ones to do that."
NDP SAYS FOCUS SHOULD BE SAFE RETURN, NOT CURRICULUM
The Official Opposition quickly criticized the announcement as a distraction ploy and failure by LaGrange to address concerns about returning to classrooms in September with COVID-19.
“The minister didn’t act a year ago. Now her job is to keep kids safe. Now all of her energy should be focused on how do we get more resources into school divisions’ hands so they can staff up apropriately? How do we make sure we have more space if our schools are already over crowded?” asked NDP Education Critic Sarah Hoffman.
“In my opinion the right timeline was a year ago.”
Hoffman’s party, when it held the previous government, had started work to update the school plan in 2016. Two years later, it had finished a second draft of a K-4 curriculum ready for testing.
The pilot was put on hold after the provincial election, with the new United Conservative government promising to bring education “back to basics.”
On Thursday, LaGrange said the plan to pilot the NDP-fronted K-4 curriculum in September 2020 needed to be postponed given the pandemic.
“We have heard from our partners in the education system that they believe their focus needs to be on a successful school re-entry for students, as they return to in-person schooling for the first time since March – and we absolutely agree.”
She said the ministry has sought subject matter experts to look over what was done by the NDP, and expand the K-4 outline to Grade 6.
The plan is to pilot the entire elementary curriculum at the start of the 2021-22 school year, while beginning to develop the Grade 7-12 portion after that.
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With files from CTV News Edmonton's Nicole Weisberg and CTV News Calgary