June 15th, 2024

Local educators express concerns over proposed new curriculum

By Al Beeber on June 25, 2021.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Two long-time educators expressed their concern about the new proposed Alberta K-12 education curriculum in Thursday’s online session of the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs.
Ken Rogers, a well-known city singer, musician, conductor and educator who retired three years ago from Lethbridge Collegiate Institute after 32 years, spoke in-depth about the experiences he and fellow guest speaker Kelly Frewin had working on a proposed K-12 curriculum that was planned in 2016 under the NDP government.
Frewin, a Lethbridge educator for 20 years, leads the drama program at LCI and like Rogers, has also taught at the elementary school level.
Both were members of the Curriculum Working Group consisting of hundreds of educators that consulted Alberta Education on a new curriculum that was rejected by the UCP in 2019. That committee was replaced by a 12-member team charged with drafting a K-6 curriculum that has been met with much criticism.
Both Rogers and Frewin spoke of their concerns with the content of the new draft curriculum and the differences in approach to developing one for Alberta students.
Frewin said members of the previous working group “felt respected as professionals who knew our jobs.”
Now, said Rogers, elementary teachers have told him they are “terrified and feel helpless. They’re in tears, they’re losing sleep, they don’t know how they’ll manage this draft if it becomes reality one day.”
Rogers said the previous proposed curriculum involved members putting in 5,000 teacher days working over three years to develop a draft curriculum for grades K-4 and it was reviewed by 100,000 people before being rejected by the UCP, which had 12 committee members spending 200 teacher days coming up with a new one.
Rogers is a self-professed “curriculum nerd. Curriculum is not the kind of thing you read for fun and even more so, it’s not the kind of thing you write for fun. It takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of research.”
Rogers said music curriculum in the early 1980s was several pages of “front matter” with nothing concrete or detailed with music teachers being on their own until a curriculum revision in the mid 1980s.
In 1986, a new curriculum that had been devised was optional in Rogers’ first year of teaching and “I was still using that curriculum when I retired hence the need for some updating.”
Two failed attempts have been made in the last 15 years at updating the music curriculum, he said.
Frewin and Rogers applied to be part of the working groups that were formed “but unfortunately we were dissolved in 2019 following the provincial election.”
Rogers talked about a concept based curriculum which “arose from a governmental desire for a 21st century curriculum that was guided largely by a document called the 2010 Inspiring Education Initiative under the PC education minister Hancock. And this document stressed the engaged thinker and the engaged learner.
The word ‘engaged’, he said, is probably one of the most important words in education besides a student being safe is that they are engaged.”
“All of this is quite unlike the 2020 draft that was released by the UCP minister LaGrange.”
The 300 educators involved in the 2016-19 work were mostly teachers and made a “real commitment as full-time teachers” as they met regularly in Edmonton in working groups and revisited their work regularly and did their own research and reflections. First Nations and Francophone members were included in all teams.
Committee members often worked in three main grade groupings and met five or six times a year in Edmonton, usually for three days at a time. They also met in July and August.
Members weren’t writing the actual curriculum, he said, but they could see their work evident in drafts.
“The goal was to update for the 21st century.”
The process, Rogers said, had no ideological or political pressures and educators were told in fact to stay home if they wanted to push a personal agenda.
Rogers said the Lethbridge School Division reviewed the UCP proposed curriculum and determined “Alberta has been renowned for a world class curriculum. The board of trustees does not believe it would be ethical or responsible to have our students navigate the proposed draft curriculum that has an abundance of content that is not age appropriate, fails to adequately address diversity” and lacks coherency and integration of ideas.
He said 56 of 61 school boards in Alberta would not be piloting the K-6 curriculum.
Frewin said if teachers don’t feel the curriculum reflects age level, grade level and their students, then serious issues exist.
He suggested talks about the UCP needing to revamp the curriculum because it was too based on discovery learning and that they needed to go to tried-and-true tested teaching methods that give better outcomes in math and reading, are without merit.
He also said education can’t be biased, but the committee he and Rogers worked on had guidelines.
“Education is a political system. There is no way that education can be unbiased or less biased. When we went into our group, the biases were very clear that the guides we were given had very clear principles.”
Those principles, he said, were based on inclusion, pluralism and diverse views, and included First Nations, Metis, and Fancophone population.
The UCP curriculum, Frewin said, “is not a curriculum for reconciliation” and that First Nations are deeply concerned.

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