August 24th, 2019

UCP curriculum delay an attack on public education

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on August 3, 2019.

jappel@medicinehatnews.com@MHNJeremyAppel

The provincial government is putting the brakes on the updated K-12 curriculum that has been in the works for 11 years, spanning five premiers.

The K-4 portion of the curriculum, which was slated to be piloted in select classrooms in September, has been put on hold indefinitely.

On the one hand, this is likely frustrating for many of the educators who put so much time and effort into writing the new curriculum, and were finally set to see the early stages of its implementation.

However, the UCP made an electoral vow hold off on putting it to work before engaging in vaguely-defined enhanced “consultations.” So promise made, promise kept.

And, somewhat surprisingly, the Alberta Teachers’ Association came out in support of the delay in a Twitter statement, outlining five conditions to be met before the curriculum is implemented based on a 2018 survey of 2,800 K-4 teachers.

They’re asking that the ministry ensure approved program resources are available at least one school year prior; allow one year of optional implementation; provide training for teachers required to teach the new programs; undertake a pilot project to evaluate the curriculum’s impact on teacher workload; and provide boards with the necessary funds to acquire new resources.

“The existing plan for implementation did not meet these criteria, which is why the ATA is supportive of a delay,” the statement said.

“With new programs for six subjects across five grades, teachers must be well supported in order for implementation to be successful.”

Now, this reasoning for supporting the delay is entirely different from the government’s.

The UCP’s position, while in opposition, during the campaign and now in government, is that the curriculum itself isn’t very good, which must be insulting to the experts who put it together over the years.

During the election campaign, Cypress-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Drew Barnes told the News that the history section of the curriculum “completely excludes Alberta and Canadian history” and that the math portion “doesn’t focus on the fundamentals.”

A UCP government, he said, would solicit “tremendously more input from parents and Albertans.”

But it’s educators who are in the best position to decide what is taught and how it’s taught, rather than arbitrary members of the public who have no expertise in the matters at hand.

It’s true that the K-4 draft curriculum, which is available to be read online for those who are interested, doesn’t specifically cover history. It does, however, have a social studies section, providing the foundations for learning about history in the middle grades, through questions of citizenship, identity and inclusivity, which are quite crucial for understanding where we all came from.

So what is the UCP’s motivation here?

It’s no secret the UCP has a large base of support in rural, more religious communities that may take issue with the curriculum’s emphasis on inclusivity and diversity when it conflicts with their deeply-held religious beliefs. These are the “parents and Albertans” to whom Barnes refers.

Premier Jason Kenney, who himself comes from a devout social conservative background, made a promise to rally his troops, regardless of best educational practices.

The ATA, on the other hand, simply wants its membership to be given an appropriate degree of preparation. That could easily be solved by slowing down the implementation timeline.

However, it appears the government has other plans in mind, consistent with their withholding education funding until after the federal election and delaying contractually-obligated arbitration.

(Jeremy Appel is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to https://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)

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