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New K-6 curriculum to focus on literacy, numeracy, practical skills and citizenship: LaGrange

Last Updated Mar 29, 2021 at 5:10 pm MDT

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange unveils details on the new draft for the K-6 curriculum on Mar. 29, 2021. (PHOTO: Tom Ross, 660 NEWS)

CALGARY (660 NEWS) – The Alberta government will be centring on four key themes as it prepares to roll out its new school curriculum.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said the draft K-6 curriculum will bring a renewed focus to literacy, numeracy, citizenship and practical skills.

The proposed curriculum comes after more than a year of consultations with parents, teachers and educators after the United Conservative government scrapped the original proposal from the NDP, claiming it was too political.

“The new curriculum delivers on our commitment to Albertans to refocus learning on essential knowledge and skills in order to give our children the best possible chance at success,” said LaGrange.

Some highlights of the draft curriculum include helping students to master reading and writing, numbers and equations, Canadian history and diversity and practical skills such as household budgeting and the importance of consent.

According to the UCP government, Alberta students have seen a decline in literacy, math and science numbers compared to the rest of the world since 2006.

LaGrange said this is why there must be a return to more basics.

“Like adding and subtracting, and the multiplication tables. And it goes on to more complex applications in arithmetic: geometry and data. And thanks to a new ministerial order last year, teachers will no longer be required to teach math using discovery or inquiry methods.”

Returning to basics will also mark a return to lessons focused on memorization, such as knowing multiplication tables off by heart and doing spelling tests.

LaGrange criticized the last draft curriculum developed by the NDP government, and said it was developed in secret without the types of consultation the UCP did. She said her government’s curriculum fixes perceived gaps in the NDP draft, which was never implemented.

“There were no references to the roots and institutions of our parliamentary democracy, or to the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. There was no mention of the rule of law, of our military history, or of the story of Canadian confederation. These are undeniable and indispensable aspects of who we are,” she said.

The curriculum review has been criticized by many groups after leaked documents showed some of the recommendations from a panel comprised by the UCP last year.

WATCH: Alberta’s curriculum review given to education minister, but not released to public

The CBC released a story with the documents, showing recommendations including removing topics like residential schools and equity from earlier grades, and adding more religious subject matter into the classroom.

LaGrange had said those were just recommendations and not confirmed to be part of the curriculum at that time.

However, it appears that nothing much has changed from those earliest forms of the draft. Treaties are not taught about in social studies until grade four and residential schools are not discussed until grade five. LaGrange noted that these will still be important aspects of the education.

“Our children need to know our past to understand our present, and the new curriculum will teach them that,” she said. “They will learn about the many sacrifices and contributions of those who came before them. Beginning with First Nation, Metis and Inuit peoples.”

The use of the word “sacrifices” immediately drew criticism on social media, with some saying this whitewashes the atrocities against Indigenous people in the nation’s colonization era.

When press by reporters on why this decision goes against a recommendation by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, LaGrange failed to give an answer.

“I’m really excited about the fact that we have so much factual, knowledge-rich content throughout all of the K-6 curriculum on Indigenous, First Nations, Metis and Inuit content,” she said.

RELATED: Report suggests Alberta students want more education on climate change

Also at the press conference, Chief Billy Joe Laboucan said the curriculum is a good start.

“We realize that we have a shared history, and that we need to keep focusing on that especially with some of the atrocities that have happened with Indigenous people in this country.”

The Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) has long been critical of the curriculum development, and President Jason Schilling said that doesn’t change now upon its release. Schilling said teachers were not allowed to play a pivotal role in the development, and that is a hindrance for everyone.

“Teachers are the ones who are curricular experts, who bring curriculum to life in their classrooms through the way that they teach it. And to have the association and teachers sidelined in that manner was hugely concerning when it came to developing this new curriculum,” he said. “We used to have a memorandum of understanding with Alberta Education that we were full partners in curriculum redesign, and that was torn up by this government in the summer of 2019.”

Schilling said this can all cause issues further down the line, with teachers left unprepared for the curriculum to come and having to learn on the fly. He added there will be a specific line of communication through the ATA so teachers can relay their thoughts on the curriculum and it will be passed along through the public feedback process led by the Alberta government.

Previous statements by the ATA echoed concerns around Indigenous teaching as well.

“The recommendations perpetuate systemic racism through whitewashing of the draft curriculum. These recommendations cannot be taken seriously and must be rejected outright,” said ATA Staff Officer for Indigenous Education Melissa Purcell in a statement in October 2020.

Another main focus in the curriculum is teaching younger students about consent, and that is being applauded by advocates.

RELATED: Concerns raised about leaked recommendations on curriculum review

“I am thrilled that the Alberta government has ensured that consent will be taught as an essential part of the K-6 curriculum. I have been advocating for these changes for many years and applaud this leadership. We clearly know that this topic thrives on society’s ignorance and indifference so the sooner we give our young people the tools and confidence, the better,” said Sheldon Kennedy with the Respect Group. “To prevent maltreatment we need to start at the youngest age possible, so, in my mind, this education will not only change lives, it will save them.”

In addition to returning to basics in the curriculum, there will be new introductions in the classroom concerning various sciences. This includes computer science, in order to improve on technological literacy.

“I see that largely as a positive,” said Dr. Marie-Claire Shanahan, an associate professor with the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. “There doesn’t seem to be much of an emphasis on students need to use this program or that program, or this equipment or that equipment. They’ve really focused on ideas of design and even computational thinking, the idea of breaking things down into parts.

I think that’s actually a really strong point, to focus on the thinking patterns, because students can apply that to any kind of computer science work that they would do in the future.”

There will be some challenges though, as Shanahan is focused on teaching the people who will become teachers once this curriculum is likely put into action.

“It’s a whole other kind of subject area that’s really been brought in, rather than just a unit. It’s really something quite new and I think that piece is going to be challenging for everyone,” she said.

Another point that Shanahan noticed, similar to earlier points on memorization, is teaching about Newton’s Laws of Motion earlier than before. Instead of teaching broad concepts that relate to the laws, there seems to be an intention for students to know exactly what the three laws of motion mean before they get to junior high.

“Some of the way that it’s presented so far really expects a lot of abstract thinking from very, very young children,” she said. “Things where we would usually use specialized equipment in a physics classroom to demonstrate Newton’s first law, how things move when they have no forces applied to them. That’s a really hard thing to demonstrate in a classroom.”

She said this is a difficult undertaking, and she hopes a lot of effort is put into making sure this creates more meaningful experiences for students under the updated plans.

“The hard work is definitely not done here.”

The curriculum is available online and the government will be receiving feedback until spring 2022 before testing it in several Alberta schools this September.

The UCP government plans to implement the K-6 curriculum for the 2022/2023 school year while the draft curriculum for grade 7-10 will be tested in September 2022, in anticipation of a rollout the following school year.

The grade 11 and 12 curriculum updates are expected to be tested in September 2023.