Get it right before curriculum moves forward

Nothing seems to galvanize public attention like education and health.

In March, Alberta Education released a new draft curriculum which has been met by widespread criticism.

To date,54 school boards have indicated they will not pilot the draft K-6 curriculum including Elk Island Public, Elk Island Catholic and Conseil scolaire Centre-Nord. While many boards have agreed to provide feedback to the Education Minister on the draft curriculum, they have tactfully stated that their priority remains student learning during the pandemic.

Teachers, parents, indigenous communities and university professors have spoken out about its inherent problems. As opposition grows, it is worth noting that Alberta has one of the top-performing education systems in the world. Based on the 2018 results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), Alberta students ranked third in the world in reading and science and eighth in mathematics. Seventy-nine countries participated in the 2018 study and the ten Canadian provinces. Alberta students outranked those in every Canadian province in Reading and Science though Quebec and Ontario edged our students out in mathematics.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of attending an international conference on education in Chicago. Listening to leading scholars from Poland and the United States address the need to improve the standard of education, I was struck by the fact that Alberta’s PISA results outstripped those from the homeland of both presenters.

I boldly asked how a province like ours could move the needle further when we already rank near the top. The response was simple; “You Canadians worry far too much about being number one. Focus more on happiness and the results will take care of themselves.”

The message was quite profound: we need to focus on ensuring that our kids are healthy, happy and stress-free. We need to pay attention to wellness and mental health for our children to thrive. It was a powerful message for all communities who care about the well-being of our children.

What does this have to do with curriculum reform? It is important to realize that we have one of the top-performing systems in the world.

Our teachers are well educated and highly professional. Standards of achievement are clearly identified. Professional development is not taken for granted. The curriculum is provincially mandated. The principles of equity and inclusivity are embedded in the system.

Yes, we can always improve upon what we are doing; teachers would be the first to point out that revision is necessary to ensure our curriculum remains relevant and up-to-date.

Indeed, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission pointed out the need for greater emphasis on First Nations, Inuit and Métis content including the inclusion of content related to the history of residential schools.

Many stakeholders have identified the need to improve our approach to mathematics; others have argued that Alberta muststrengthen the language arts curriculum to increase reading fluency.

But let’s take the time to get the curriculum right before foisting it on another generation of young minds.

Pilot new curricula in stages rather than attempting to re-write the entire program of studies all at once. Slow it down! Engage teachers and parents in more conversation before rushing it out the door.

Pilot the curriculum in segments by bringing the most important pieces forward immediately while pulling back pieces that require substantial revision such as social studies and health.

Our kids deserve better. They deserve the very best.

This article was written by Bill Tonita, Ward 4 councillor for Strathcona County. The views expressed are his own. He can be reached by calling 780-464-8146 or by emailing [email protected]