Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Though Alberta Teachers may celebrate their victory as much of the criticized new K–6 Alberta curriculum halts implementation, Alberta Teachers’ Association President Jason Schilling reminds us that the work is far from over.
The province announced that they are pulling back the implementation of the drafted Social Studies, Science and Fine Arts curriculums, but the new English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Physical Education and Wellness curriculums will be put into place for the beginning of the 2022–2023 school year.
“We have had concerns that we’ve raised with the government over the creation of this K–6 draft curriculum. Traditionally, the association has been a full partner in curriculum development, but the minister tore up that agreement in the summer of 2019, as teachers have always been part of curriculum development, because they’re experts in it. And so this curriculum was developed without teacher input,” said Schilling, who continues to call for a full moratorium for the draft curriculum.
“There’s still a lot of concerns about the English language arts curriculum, the math curriculum and the health and wellness one. They still need work, and in my mind, they still need to stop the implementation of those, because they’re not ready. They’ve not been field tested appropriately. They don’t have the proper resources. We don’t know what the assessments are going to be like. We don’t know what the professional development for teachers is going to be like,” said Schilling. “So there’s a lot of questions that need to be answered and introducing this again, in the middle of a pandemic when everybody’s already stressed and the system is at a max already just does not seem like a good idea. And as teachers, we don’t want this new curriculum, or a new curriculum to fail our students. We want it to be successful and we fear that this one will not be.”
Schilling noted that much of the new curriculum is “not age or grade appropriate,” such as a focus on phonics past where they are traditionally taught, and pulling content from higher grades before students would reasonably be ready to learn them.
“For instance, the upper elementary schools would start studying Shakespeare, which is something kids don’t traditionally start reading until grade nine, or ten. To start pulling things from junior high or high school level and putting them into elementary school level, it’s just going to cause a lot of confusion and chaos for these students, because they’re not going to understand it. And then they’re going to hate it. And we don’t want students to hate school, we want them to love school,” said Schilling.
Another concern included a lack of reference to any sort of digital tools in an increasingly digital age, and a lack of focus on writing in English Language Arts curriculum. However, one of the biggest concerns remains the lack of bridging to help with the transition to this higher level learning.
“What K–6 does is that you progress through and learn these concepts and build on them throughout the years. It’s called scaffolding. There’s no scaffolding on these concepts. And so kids are going to be lost, and they’re going to be confused by everything. And that’s not something that is good for them,” said Schilling.
“A lot of the new track K district curriculum is very prescriptive. It says to teachers, this is the concept, here’s the thing we want you to teach, and this is how you want it to teach everyone is to teach it. That’s traditionally not what curriculum is, just these are the outcomes. However teachers choose to teach that in their classroom is usually a professional, gives them some professional autonomy,” said Schilling. “There’s guides out there that teachers can follow, but really, you know, as a teacher, I have choices on how I can approach certain concepts and based on the students that I have, some have higher needs than others. And it allows me to differentiate those lessons. And this new curriculum doesn’t really allow for that.”
While teachers have expressed that this new curriculum may be possible to teach within a year, this would only be if nothing had to be re-taught and there was no need to change approaches for varying student needs, which Schilling states is not what education is.
“As teachers, we did an analysis of the curriculum, we had about 500 teachers give their input plus we did what we call curriculum circles and put together this report that was released in September, on teachers found this, you know, this whole curriculum is age inappropriate, it’s grade inappropriate, it doesn’t build forward. That’s one of the concerns with the Physical Education curriculum, that there’s not a lot of connection between the ideas and the concepts that are being taught,” said Schilling. “There’s a lot of, when you look at the indigenous and Francophone communities, there’s a lot of tokenism in the curriculum, looking at indigenous people, as past tense as something that’s not living and breathing, their communities that are thriving in the present or have futures. And so that’s why we asked for a moratorium to stop this and to go back and get it right, because we’re talking about our students’ future, and what they’re learning. And that’s incredibly important to teachers, teachers take curriculum very seriously.”
The ATA will continue to work on halting the implementation of the rest of the draft curriculum, and encourages parents and other invested parties to reach out to their MLAs regarding this issue.
“This has to be something that a lot of people band together and advocate for. And you saw some success by the government stepping back, especially from social studies, and saying, we’re not going to implement this in the fall,” said Schilling. “You saw a little bit of a crack in the government on that idea. So we need to keep that pressure on and keep those conversations going.”