The Alberta government has released what it says are the final drafts of a new elementary school curriculum in math, English language arts and phys ed and wellness.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced Wednesday the new fine arts, science and French curricula won’t be mandatory in some elementary schools until fall 2023, and social studies has been pushed back to fall of 2024.
There is no timeline yet for the new curriculum reaching junior high or high school grades.
LaGrange reiterated Wednesday the government will push ahead to introduce new math and English language arts curricula to K-3 classes this fall. All K-6 teachers will also be required to deliver a new phys ed and wellness curriculum.
“These three subjects in Alberta’s new K-6 curriculum are critical starting points that will set students on the best path for success,” LaGrange said at a press conference held in High Level, 740 km north of Edmonton.
Under construction for more than a decade, Alberta’s curriculum has been a political football since now-Premier Jason Kenney accused the former NDP government of developing a new curriculum that could smuggle socialist ideology into schools.
The first drafts of the K-6 curriculum revised by advisers hired by the United Conservative Party government were panned by parents and education experts as age and developmentally inappropriate, fixated on memorization versus comprehension, favouring European and Christian points of view and unsupported by modern research about how children learn. Critics also pointed to plagiarism and inaccuracies in the drafts.
Most school divisions refused to pilot test it.
The government said it took feedback from the public, educators and other experts into account when it updated the new math, English and wellness curricula.
Background information the government provided says some math and English topics were nudged to different grades to make the curriculum more developmentally appropriate. It says the order of topics now aligns with state curricula in some top-performing places, such as Singapore, Massachusetts and Estonia.
Richelle Marynowski, an assistant professor of education at the University of Lethbridge and expert in preparing teachers to teach math, said the new version of curriculum included about half of the improvements she wanted to see.
The language in the curriculum is more in line with terminology educators use in Alberta, she said.
However, she has lingering questions about how teachers will cover so much material within one school year. Some expectations may still be age inappropriate, she said.
She was also disappointed to see the province choose Jump Math as the main resource for teaching kids. She says the software is too narrowly focused and prescriptive for teachers.
Marynowski sees elementary school teachers, who cover most or all subjects for one class, struggling with the amount of change coming at once.
“This is going to be a bumpy year coming up for teachers,” she said.
The education ministry’s business plan says the government will adopt new Grade 1 and 2 tests in language and math to “help assess progress in the critical early years.”
However, government officials had no information Wednesday on whether any new standardized tests were coming.
Alberta schools and school divisions will receive nearly $38 million this year for professional development to prepare teachers to deliver the new material, and to purchase resources, such as textbooks, software, and other material.
It will be up to each school or division to determine how to prepare their staff.
With most teachers out of the classroom for July and August, the mid-April release leaves schools little time to prepare their staff, Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling said.
“This is a big dramatic shift from a concept-based curriculum to a knowledge-based curriculum,” he said. “It’s a completely different style of teaching.”
NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman renewed a promise to scrap the UCP’s drafts entirely, should her party form government in the next general election.
“The overwhelming feedback over the last year is that this curriculum is horrible,” she said.
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