Alberta education minister moves curriculum consultation meetings online

·4 min read

A St. Albert teacher who served nearly four years on the Alberta government's curriculum working groups said it's a mistake to disband them.

For about 12 days each year, Jodi Harding-Kuriger regularly met up with other health and physical education teachers and subject experts at the University of Alberta to scrutinize how children should learn about their bodies.

They studied curriculum from around the world and identified best practices. Every suggestion they wrote into curriculum documents needed a research citation to show it was valid.

"It was something that really got us excited," she said on Thursday. "We were really passionate about what we were writing and we wanted to do it well. Teachers are natural overachievers."

Now that a new Alberta government has taken a different approach to curriculum, she fears all that time and effort could have been in vain.

Emails obtained earlier by CBC News show the government has disbanded the eight groups of 358 experts. Last week, the education ministry began recruiting about 300 teachers to sit on new working groups organized by grade.

During the first week of December, elementary school teachers will begin reviewing drafts of a new kindergarten to Grade 6 curriculum in two days of online meetings.

Critics say the process is clumsy and rushed, and that approach is on purpose.

"I believe that this is just a show," Harding-Kuriger said. "It's a joke. This is their attempt to say that they consulted with teachers and they want to push it through quite quickly."

As the process comes under scrutiny, the education minister said Thursday she had relaxed the timeline for teacher feedback slightly.

Olivier Periard/CBC
Olivier Periard/CBC

School boards, First Nations and private schools now have until Friday to nominate teachers to the new groups — an extension of three days.

Although the ministry had hoped for face-to-face meetings in Edmonton on November 25 and 26, those have been pushed to December 3 and 4 and to an online format.

Curriculum groups needed 'refreshing," government says

Since 2016, Alberta has been attempting to rewrite its K-12 curriculum in English and French simultaneously, a first for the province, which previously developed programs of study for subjects separately. The United Conservative Party was suspicious of the process under the NDP government, and paused all work after they were elected in April 2019.

But the UCP government has been criticized for its potential curriculum changes after documents obtained by CBC News showed it is considering reforms many educators see as controversial.

Social studies advisers selected by the government recommended removing all lessons in early grades about harms European settlers did to Indigenous peoples, including mentions of residential schools. That recommendation is counter to the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Advisers also wanted young children to cover hundreds of years of ancient history and memorize dozens of dates. Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has said some of the suggestions aren't realistic and that residential schools will be taught in elementary schools.

Educators who were troubled and outraged by the proposals are also suspicious of the rapid dismissal and re-assembly of new teacher groups to review the drafts.

Earlier this week, LaGrange said that retirements, the COVID-19 pandemic and other changing life circumstances for group members meant membership needed "refreshing."

She said the short timeline to recruit teachers for the groups was due to an aggressive deadline to have drafts of the new K-6 curriculum made available for public review by early 2021. She wants some teachers to begin testing the new elementary curriculum in classrooms by September 2021 and full adoption across the province by September 2022.

Teachers who previously served on the curriculum groups are eligible to be re-nominated.

Harding-Kuriger, a parent of three elementary age children, says despite her frustration with the process, she hopes she is one of the teachers invited back.

"This is the curriculum my children will be learning, so I feel strongly about being a part of that process. Because parents are first and foremost educators for their children. And, the learning that is happening around those tables, the discussion is rich."

She is one of many educators who found the leaked curriculum advice troubling.

Harding-Kuriger, who is doing her PhD in education at the University of Alberta, said she also wants to push the government to slow the process down in light of the impact the pandemic is having on schools and teachers.

If Alberta is emerging from the shadow of the pandemic by September 2021, the last thing exhausted teachers will want to do is prepare to change how they teach every subject while hunting for new resources, she said.

She doesn't mind the idea of the government publicizing the names of teachers consulted about curriculum — another question that's served as a political football for years.

"There is a call and an obligation to stand behind, and in front of, what you're producing as a curriculum writer."