School curriculum to focus on basics, says LaGrange

Minister Adriana LaGrange, MLA for Red Deer South, said it will ‘unleash student potential’

Alberta students will study under a new curriculum that focuses on literacy, numeracy and Canadian history — while keeping out political bias, the province’s education minister said.

Adriana LaGrange signed a ministerial order to finalize the new curriculum, which is to be implemented in phases and be fully in place by the 2022-23 school year.

She called the plan a return to “proven teaching methods” that will set up Alberta students for rich personal and work lives.

“It will include a social studies curriculum that is taught without political bias, offering objective understanding of Albertan, Canadian and world history, geography and civic literacy,” said LaGrange at an Edmonton news conference Thursday.

She declined to give an example of political bias in the current program.

“I had several parents send me evidence of bias that was being taught to their children, sometimes within an exam,” she said.

“The social studies, the way it’s presented in certain classrooms, by certain individual teachers — there have been actual examples of bias shown.”

Bruce Buruma, spokesperson with Red Deer Public Schools, said there will likely always be some biases inherent in educational materials that interpret history.

He added the aim should be to present various points of view in the classroom that lead to discussions, allowing students to exercise critical thinking skills and ultimately to formulate their own “world view.”

While literacy and numeracy have been key for Red Deer Public Schools in the past, Buruma said he eagerly awaits the new curriculum, as new approaches are needed to prepare young people for “a world that is different from when I grew up.”

An extensive review of the curriculum began in 2016 under the former NDP government. That review was to be completed in stages, with the results for kindergarten to Grade 4 rolling out last year.

After the NDP lost the provincial election last year, the United Conservative government put the plan on hold to do its own review.

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said the kindergarten to Grade 4 changes should have been implemented a year ago.

She added that the timing of Thursday’s announcement, while children will be put at risk returning to school this fall during a pandemic, is wrong.

“There is no more obvious an attempt to distract from the issue at hand than what the minister just did,” she said.

“This is an attempt to pretend that everything’s fine in regard to school safety. And I hate to say it, but it’s not.”

The province announced earlier this week that masks will be mandatory for students in grades 4 to 12, and all staff, when schools reopen in September.

Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, said he’s relieved implementation of the new curriculum will be delayed.

“It’s unfortunate, but we’re in the middle of a pandemic, which is not the time to do that, and we need to remain focused on ensuring a return to school is safe.”

He said the new curriculum is long overdue, but hopes the government will consult with teachers before making anything final.

“We have to make sure we don’t confuse what the ministerial order says about curriculum with pedagogy and how we teach,” he said.

“Curriculum is what we teach. How we teach it should be left up to teachers.”

The chair of the curriculum advisory panel said the curriculum changes are necessary to keep Alberta students competitive with the rest of the world.

“You can’t do so many subjects if you can’t read, think, compute or comprehend well. Those are the essentials that we want for all Alberta students,” said Angus McBeath, a former superintendent of Edmonton Public Schools.

“We don’t want any kids in Alberta left behind. Many Albertans feel that in life, they’re being shortchanged in this province. We want that to end.”

LaGrange said the K-4 curriculum that was already completed will be reviewed and enhanced before being offered next year. Work on the curriculum for other age groups is continuing.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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