Polarization and political debate influence many aspects of our lives, and it seems the education of Alberta’s young minds is no different. But with all of the finger-pointing and vitriol that has come to characterize Alberta's efforts to modernize its school curriculum, we risk losing an opportunity for meaningful, constructive conversation.
The release of the UCP government’s draft curriculum this week resulted in an outpouring of reaction – after all, there is a lot to dissect in the more-than-600-page document. It marks a shift away from a previous curriculum introduced by the NDP, which favoured concept-based learning and critical thinking, and which was criticized heavily by opposition politicians as pushing an ideological agenda. The UCP’s version, on the other hand, favours students having a common cache of knowledge first, with specific goals and reading materials setting the foundation for each grade. It, of course, has already come under the same criticism as its predecessor.
We won't get into the nuts and bolts of who's claiming what about this latest draft. Our province has become polarized over the role of teachers, how schools should be run, and what teaching methods are the best. Meanwhile, we have yet to understand the impacts COVID-19 has had on student learning, which could become quite the uphill climb. This week, the Gazette found the COVID-19 pandemic has hobbled literacy levels for Grades 1 to 9 in the Edmonton region, with 40 per cent of students surveyed determined to be struggling readers who performed below their grade level. Even before the pandemic, Alberta's education ranking had been slipping compared to other areas of the world. There are plenty of issues to be addressed in our education system.
But as it stands now, the province’s draft curriculum is just that – a draft. It didn’t fall out of the sky, and it isn’t written in stone. The review process has been ongoing for years with input from thousands of Albertans and will continue for a while yet. This spring, educators specifically are being targeted to give input. Then we have an entire year – until Spring 2022 – for further public input.
Albertans have an important role to play here. In the fall, the K-6 curriculum will be tested in voluntary classrooms to see how it performs in the real world. Parents and teachers will no doubt have plenty to say, bad and good, once that happens. There are probably many aspects that will need to be tweaked, improved or rethought altogether. That's the point of a trial run.
For now, let's skip the politics and keep our focus on what matters: the future of our children. Nobody is out to sabotage our education system – not the UCP, and not the NDP. The path to growth is a process that takes hard work and involves all of us, not a race to be won by one side or the other looking to score political points.
As Albertans, the release of the draft curriculum gives us the opportunity to ask ourselves who we hope our children will become. Avid readers? Critical thinkers? Problem solvers? Let’s learn to understand first and respect the vast knowledge of the public educators in our province. Then we can get to work making this much-needed curriculum update the best document possible to guide our children toward those goals.