St. Albert-area educators say the province’s new draft K-6 curriculum is overloaded with content and out of touch with the realities of modern education.
Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange released a new draft of the Grades K-6 curriculum March 29. The 673-page document, if implemented, would set out what Alberta students would learn in school.
“In the last election, we heard loud and clear from parents across Alberta that it was time for a renewed focus on essential knowledge and skills in the K-to-6 curriculum,” LaGrange said.
The draft curriculum emphasizes literacy, numeracy, citizenship and practical skills, and aims to give students an appreciation of “how Canadians have built one of the most generous, prosperous, and diverse societies in the world,” an Alberta Education press release said.
While the 2018 draft curriculum proposed by the NDP focused on concepts (e.g. the nature of equity), the 2021 draft focuses on specific facts students should learn (e.g. Métis scrip and Louis Riel) with aim to create a common base of understanding.
“Literate and informed citizens know how to use modern research tools but do not have to stop to look up every statistic, literary reference, or historical claim,” the draft reads.
The draft proposes that certain topics, such as consent, numeracy and Indigenous culture, be permeated across all grades and classes. Students might play lacrosse in gym, learn First Nations legends in Language Arts, cover Indigenous timekeeping in Math, and practise Indigenous beadwork in Fine Arts, for example.
The draft also lists a vast array of topics for students to know. Students would be expected to learn about Judaism, Hinduism and Islam, as well as Black settlement in Alberta, the Al-Rashid Mosque in Edmonton and jazz musician Mart Kenney (the grandfather of Premier Jason Kenney). Their education would include familiarity with the scientific method, Chief Crowchild, the Peloponnesian War, Angkor Wat, Italian musician Palestrina, Persian scholar Avicenna, and much, much more.
Too much stuff
The draft curriculum is a list of facts and ideas that just gets longer and longer as you go up in the grades, said Carla Peck, a professor of social studies education at the University of Alberta who was one of the 30 educators asked to review the draft last December.
“I would call it a Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy curriculum,” she said, referring to two common trivia games, as it covers a wide breadth of subjects with little depth into any of them.
Peck said teachers would have so much material to cover in this draft that they would likely have to skate through most of it, which means students would not understand different world-views or why this material matters.
Peck said the draft has a problematic philosophical orientation which assumes it is enough to know a bare minimum about a topic (e.g. “Egypt has pyramids”) and not its details (“Why Egypt has pyramids”). She said Alberta would be “going back in time” with this checklist-of-information approach to teaching and is out of step with the concept-based focus taken by the rest of the world.
St. Albert Public Phys-Ed specialist Glenn Wilson said in an email he is concerned with how the curriculum mashes Health and Phys-Ed together. The physical skills in the curriculum would be a challenge for any non-specialist to teach, and teachers would be hard-pressed to cram in topics such as meal preparation and substance abuse without sacrificing something else.
“The content for this outline is out of touch with the actual classroom and the students therein,” he said.
“It would not surprise me if the last time the (curriculum’s authors) saw the inside of a Grade 2 classroom was when they were in Grade 2.”
Billie-Jo Grant, the associate director of Métis education with the Rupertsland Institute and a St. Albert resident, is concerned that the draft does not address residential schools until Grade 5, given that today’s students are already learning about them in Grade 1 through projects such as Orange Shirt Day.
“I’m not sure what the reasoning behind the curriculum is to not address it at all grades, but it’s a Canadian truth.”
The province has committed $6 million to test-drive the draft curriculum in select schools this September, and plans to collect public comment on it until Spring 2022. The final curriculum would roll out everywhere in Fall 2022, just in time for the draft Grade 7 to 10 curriculum to be test-piloted.
The draft curriculum and a survey on it can be found at www.alberta.ca/curriculum.aspx.