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David Staples: The real problem with Alberta’s new school curriculum isn’t what you think it is

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Biggest problem with Alberta’s K-6 Interim Curriculum?


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It’s not what you think it is. This is not the raging controversy over what we should be teaching children in social studies or even math.

Instead, our fundamental problem is our over-ambitious all-or-nothing approach.

Three successive Alberta governments have attempted to rewrite the entire curriculum in one fell swoop.

The Progressive Conservatives of Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford and the New Democrats of Rachel Notley have both tried and failed. Now Jason Kenney’s United Conservatives seem to be on the same track.

This approach is doomed to fail. If there is major controversy surrounding any part of a proposed new program, it ends up stagnating and then derailing desperately needed fixes in other areas, like IT.


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For two decades, the best computer scientists in Alberta have worked hard for better computer education in our schools, especially in the early grades.

“This is the foundational knowledge that our children need to be successful in the future, and that’s why it is being incorporated (in K-12 schools) around the world,” said Cathy Adams, teacher. at the University of Alberta.

In 2018, Adams and his group lobbied and incorporated computer concepts into the NDP’s Kindergarten to Grade 6 introductory curriculum.

But that NDP curriculum process collapsed due to controversies surrounding math and social science education. The UCP promised to cut the entire NDP curriculum and did it.

Adams and his group were frustrated, knowing that Alberta students were already falling behind other students around the world.


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“It’s a tragedy for our children,” Adams said. “It’s such an important moment, but we still haven’t made it out of the gate.”

The computer scientists then went to work with the UCP. It now offers a Kindergarten to Grade 6 computer program similar to the NPD’s. But the NDP is pledging to cut the entire UCP program, mostly on the controversial social studies program.

Curriculum writing doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it never was.

Twenty years ago, when Alberta was still a leading school in the world in science and languages ​​(where we still do well) but also in mathematics ( where we cratered ), governments would rewrite the curriculum one or two subjects at a time. About once every ten years or so, each major domain was updated.


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But in 2010, everything changed.

A group of university professors and educational consultants gained enormous influence with the Stelmach government. They pushed for the idea of ​​suddenly transforming the education system in Alberta. The plan was to institute an educational model based on discovery learning, where students learn through discovery and experience, usually by working at their own pace as they engage in projects and work. group, with teachers acting not as instructors but as guides.

“We are transforming education,” the government said in its public relations campaign for this change. “We are changing the way we think. Because everything changes. So we change everything.

Slogans for the complete rewrite of the Government of Alberta's program proposed in 2010.
Slogans for the complete rewrite of the Government of Alberta’s program proposed in 2010.

Whatever the merit of this school of education, it certainly did not lack a grand ambition.


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To be fair, inquiry-based learning is an established and often successful learning style, especially when used with mature students who already have a large basic knowledge base. But there is no evidence that the discovery approach is an effective way to teach arithmetic to young children.

In the face of deep public distress over Alberta’s catastrophic math performance and mistrust of the direction of its curriculum transformation, the reforms of the Stelmach / Redford era stalled .

But the ambitious approach to rewriting the curriculum was suddenly experienced with the NDP, then the UCP.

What to do?

When a future government gets down to work on the Grades 7-12 curriculum, how about rolling out the subjects again one or two at a time, not all at the same time?


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As for this kindergarten to grade 6 curriculum, the proposed changes in social studies obviously require a lot of work. Why not put them on the back burner? All of our school boards will then be able to conduct pilot projects in math, computer science and literacy this fall.

I notice that the Kenney government is already saying that school boards do not have to conduct pilot projects on every part of the curriculum. Before the Legislature this week, UCP’s Minister of Children’s Services, Rebecca Schulz, said, “School divisions can choose to lead some or all of the subjects of the curriculum. For example, they could pilot math or just language arts.

Here we have a reasonable path to follow.

Given the desperate need to fix math education and revive computing in Kindergarten to Grade 6, it would be irresponsible not to continue.

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