Albertans may be wondering about the curriculum debate ongoing among political parties, the Alberta Teachers’ Association, university researchers, parent groups, and school boards. After all, Alberta’s education system has been highly ranked in international comparisons for years. Will a new curriculum really matter? Yes, it will.
Distressingly, the curriculum has become a high-stakes political football, with Alberta’s children and its future set to become casualties. How can a curriculum cause this?
First, the UCP-created curriculum is focused on "essential knowledge and skills." Previous curriculums were created around concepts and ideas. The UCP version is composed of endless lists of "facts," some not age-appropriate and many that are disconnected. School curriculums in most provinces and countries, including Alberta, moved away from this approach years ago, recognizing that children learn best when ideas are well connected and that children develop higher-level thinking skills when they can inquire and learn topics in depth, rather than learning many "facts" superficially.
We know that "facts" are subject to change (Pluto is no longer a planet); are determined by one’s perspective (colonialism); and are easy to look up when needed.
Alberta’s children deserve a curriculum that respects them and challenges them in interesting ways. Some facts are essential to study of a discipline, such as basic facts in mathematics, letter sounds in reading, basic geography, etc., these have always been part of the Alberta curriculum, but to base an entire curriculum on facts?
How many businesses, now and in the future, will hire employees who have memorized piles of facts? Also, an unquestioning reliance on "facts" will make our society more susceptible to misinformation; critical thinking is essential to a democratic society. So, although the UCP’s curriculum has a few redeeming features, and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has made some cosmetic changes in response to unprecedented criticism, it is still fundamentally flawed.
Second, when I think back to my own school experience in the 1960-70s, some classes had a strong focus on memorizing facts. These were generally in classes with less skilled teachers. I remember some of my classmates who, out of frustration and boredom, became disengaged or disruptive.
Alberta’s education system has made great strides since that time to vary teaching methods, to implement research-based approaches to help students become more successful, to meet the needs of a very diverse group of children. Alberta’s high school completion rate, especially for Indigenous students and those learning English, has continued to rise. It is not perfect, but a curriculum with flexibility and creativity, focused around ideas and concepts, will support even more innovation to help students find joy and success in learning.
The UCP curriculum, together with under-funding, is a giant leap backward. Diminishing potential for Alberta’s children will disadvantage them for post-secondary education, career prospects, ability to pay taxes, and, most importantly, a fulfilling life.
Premier Jason Kenney and Minister LaGrange have wasted our time and money on a curriculum that only they support, that rejected the input of teachers, parents, and researchers. Alberta has been a destination for families and businesses seeking a strong public education system for their children and a highly-skilled workforce; this is in jeopardy and we all need to care.
Joan Tod, St. Albert