Alberta’s new education minister will return attention to the new social studies curriculum, with plans to meet soon with teachers, Indigenous leaders and francophone representatives, he says.
Minister Demetrios Nicolaides has no timeline for releasing updated new versions of curriculum for the subject, which has been hotly debated for years.
“I just want to make sure that I’m hearing it firsthand, and I’m getting a good perspective,” he said of consultations planned for September and October.
Nicolaides, who has a PhD in social and political sciences, said he’d like curriculum designers to develop a social studies curriculum for kindergarten to Grade 12 all at once, to “look at the whole picture.” However, he says it would become mandatory in stages to make school adoption manageable.
Nicolaides said he’s also looking to hear from interested parties on the yet-unfinished new fine arts curriculum and junior and senior high curricula in all subjects.
Alberta’s attempt to replace its K-12 curriculum in all subjects, in English and French, has been a protracted affair, stick-handled by three provincial governments with clashing philosophies.
New programs of studies for math and English language arts became mandatory in K-3 last school year, and will expand to Grades 4-6 this year.
The new curriculum for science, French immersion language arts and Francophone language arts, will also become mandatory in schools for K-3 students this fall.
Although many teachers, academics and parents have found fault with revised versions of all subjects — including claims some of the material is age inappropriate and culturally exclusive — the public outrage about social studies and fine arts was the most vehement.
It prompted Nicolaides’ predecessor to scale back the rollout of those two subjects, and send them back to the department for an overhaul.
A year ago, former Minister Adriana LaGrange had hoped new versions of all subjects would be used in all elementary grades by fall 2024. That timeline is now unclear.
Although the UCP government appointed groups of teachers, academics and Indigenous experts to review the drafts, they later said the consultation was superficial and their feedback was largely dismissed. Most school authorities refused to pilot test draft versions while they were optional.
“I’m a firm believer that when you have more views and diverse viewpoints at the table, you deliver stronger products,” Nicolaides said when asked how any new feedback would be incorporated.
Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling said it’s “refreshing” to hear Nicolaides strike a collaborative tone.
Schilling said he’ll know teachers were heard if the government proposes a more realistic implementation timeline and includes content that matches students’ developmental stages. Teachers and students are struggling now with math lessons Grade 2 and 3 students had no prerequisite knowledge to understand, he said.
Mandate letter emphasizes career connections
Premier Danielle Smith released Nicolaides’ mandate letter on Tuesday, which says despite the province’s emphasis on job creation, “we are not doing enough to encourage Alberta students to pursue career paths with the most plentiful and lucrative employment opportunities.”
The letter says Nicolaides should focus on exposing Alberta’s 766,000 K-12 students to career options, by increasing off-campus learning opportunities, paid internships, and dual-credit programs, which allow students to earn post-secondary and high school credits simultaneously. About 1,800 students took dual credits in 2021-22.
Nicolaides is to fulfil an election promise to spend $20 million in four years promoting job options through career fairs, establishing an online counselling website, launching ad campaigns for high-demand jobs, and equip more tradespeople to teach K-12 students.
Nicolaides and Advanced Education Minister Rajan Sawhney are tasked with recommending how to fast-track teacher certification for professionals and tradespeople.
Right now, post-degree teacher training programs in Alberta take about two years. A “Bridge to Teacher” program for tradespeople also takes about two years.
Nicolaides said the length of those programs could deter people with expertise in specialized technical areas, such as robotics or artificial intelligence, from pursuing teaching credentials.
About 20 tradespeople a year are participating in Bridge to Teacher, he said.
ATA president Schilling said proposing truncated teacher training “makes it sound like teaching is a really easy job.”
He said teachers need extensive training in how students learn to differentiate lessons for the diverse groups of students in ever-growing classes.
Deprofessionalizing teaching risks lowering quality of education, he said.
Nicolaides said there are no plans to change the standards certified teachers must demonstrate.
Smith has also tasked Nicolaides with “reviewing and strengthening program unit funding (PUF),” which may be welcome news to families who have young children with disabilities.
Parents, school boards and education advocates have criticized the UCP’s decision to pare back PUF and limit support to preschoolers. The changes prompted school boards to cancel dozens of prekindergarten classes designed to prepare children with moderate and severe developmental delays for kindergarten. Kindergarteners also qualify for less classroom support.
Nicolaides wouldn’t say what changes he’s considering, or on what timeline. He’ll hear from early childhood education providers and families about how the program could potentially be expanded or improved, he said.
Schilling said he’s disappointed the mandate letter made no mention of Alberta schools being underfunded compared to other provinces. He said schools need a far larger funding injection than was included in the provincial budget to aid students with complex needs and make class sizes more manageable.