More Indigenous content among changes to Alberta's draft K-6 social studies curriculum

Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides says the latest curriculum revision 'moves the needle' on expert concerns about content.  (Craig Ryan/CBC - image credit)
Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides says the latest curriculum revision 'moves the needle' on expert concerns about content. (Craig Ryan/CBC - image credit)

The latest draft of Alberta's elementary school social studies curriculum is out, with revisions that integrate more Indigenous perspectives and a focus on critical thinking.

The third iteration of kindergarten to Grade 6 social studies content comes after the province took the curriculum back to the drawing board in the wake of backlash over a 2021 draft, with critics saying it was age-inappropriate and culturally exclusive.

The government subsequently did a new round of consultations with the public, teachers, community leaders and curriculum experts to come up with a new plan.

Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said Friday that the government listened to feedback that there was too much focus on memorization, and some content was being introduced too early. The new draft curriculum now introduces taxes in Grade 5 instead of Grade 2, and the amount of content in Grade 4 social studies has been reduced.

"I think our approach has been to take politics out of the classroom and give students a deep understanding of history, to understand an evolving and complex world, and give students the skills that they need to be successful," Nicolaides said.

An overview of the new draft says citizenship is an ongoing theme, with more exploration of diverse communities. First Nations, Métis and Inuit histories and contributions are addressed more consistently, according to the government, and additional content about discrimination and racism has been added for grades 3 and 6.

School authorities will have the option to begin piloting the new social studies curriculum this fall, but classroom pilots aren't mandatory.

After the previous social studies draft curriculum came out in 2021, most school authorities refused to pilot test draft versions while they were optional.

Details of the latest draft

When the draft subject overview for the revised social studies curriculum came out last month, some curriculum experts who participated in the latest round of consultations said their concerns and feedback have still been left unaddressed.

Nicolaides said despite that, he thinks the latest curriculum revision "moves the needle" for elementary school social studies.

"Some of their concerns related to content in junior high and high school. So obviously, we haven't developed that content, Nicolaides said. "I'm sure we'll be able to address that."

In the draft curriculum, kindergarten students start learning about the general concepts of community and belonging. More specific information about traditions, cultures and symbols starts in Grade 1.

Grade 2 students start learning about "the diversity of people and places" in Canada, including Indigenous communities, and are introduced to the concept of distinguishing between fact and opinion.

Lessons about provincial and municipal governments, as well as the five numbered treaties in Alberta, begin in Grade 3. The draft also has students cover specifics about the distinct languages and cultural practices of First Nations communities.

There's no mention of residential schools in the K-6 draft social studies curriculum. In its 2015 Calls to Action, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, treaties and Indigenous contributions be taught starting in kindergarten.

Grade 4 includes details about European colonization of North America and an understanding of the establishment of Canada. And in grades 5 and 6, students learn more about ancient civilizations and the principles of government and democracy.