This letter to the editor caught my eye: “Preparing our students for success”. Written by Alberta’s Education Minister David Eggen, this letter was an invitation to get involved with shaping Alberta’s future. Not only was I intrigued, I wanted to get my thoughts known and I thought through my experience I could encourage you to do the same. There are some fundamental and controversial questions that need to be addressed. Here are some of them:
- How should mathematics be taught? Should rote memorization of multiplication tables be the ultimate way to learn math?
- How do our students learn to read? Phonetics or whole language?
- Do we still need our students to be able to use cursive writing in a keyboard world?
- Should education dollars follow the student, or should those dollars be applied only to public education?
- Should public education offer only a basic program or does it serve society for public schools to spend money on elite programs like International Bachelorette and Advanced Placement?
- What is the role of Charter Schools? Are these private or are they public schools?
Even as I write this blog, I note that Minister Eggen is caught up in a controversial issue of how education dollars are being spent on home-schooled students.
Saying, “We know building proper curriculum requires support from the entire community”, Minister Eggen invites us to be part of the process. I wish him success on this undertaking. Alberta has a long history of public involvement which has helped Alberta students be highly ranked and among the most successful in the world according to a recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. Over previous years, we have had major curricular changes after public input. In the early 1970s, the Worth Report’s ‘Choice of Futures’ warned that “Tomorrow's educational services cannot be dealt with in conventional terms.” Many aspects of Worth’s recommendations seemed ‘far out’ at the time but with current e-learning technology we are much closer to being able to choose Worth’s ‘Person-Centred Society’.
The most significant curricular changes came in the 1980s based on the Harder Report. I recall newspaper inserts that encouraged us to fill out written forms and provide feedback. I remember public forums and round-table discussions at the University of Calgary delving into what and how to implement the changes. As a result, a six-year plan was developed to unveil the changes so that while one cohort of students completed their education under the prior curriculum, the changes brought in for the new group of students followed them through their educational careers. The changes were dramatic. We were no longer tethered to a curriculum designed by out-of-country textbook authors. Alberta Education had teams of teachers and consultants create new home-grown texts designed specifically to meet the needs of our students.
It is time for another overhaul of the curriculum. The ‘Online Curriculum Survey’ is the first part of the public engagement process. I found the survey to be a bit tedious to complete. It goes through entire programs of study asking about specific learning outcomes: should they increase, decrease or remain the same in emphasis. The only people who could really comment on that level of detail would be the teachers who actually teach those courses. I thought this was to be a totally new look at curriculum. The way the survey was designed, it looked as if a tweak of the old was in line. Where is there a space to put in topics that should or should not be covered in the new curriculum? Where could I suggest, for example, that I would like to see French taught K-12 to all students? Where could I recommend that Geoscience be taught as an academic science along with Biology, Physics and Chemistry? Do I dare imagine Social Studies being broken up into History, Economics and Political Science? Can I recommend my support for project-based hands-on learning while still supporting incorporation of e-learning? I don’t believe this survey will be sufficient to lead to transformative change.
Should you participate? Perhaps, but I hope that this is not the last opportunity for you to give your input into this important decision. The minister cautions us to avoid turning this into a political game. I don’t intend my critique to be political. It is a plea to make this a creative, optimistic, and forward-looking process as we develop a new curriculum preparing our students to lead the way for the Alberta of the future.
Alberta Government Curriculum survey
Preparing our students for success – letter to editor
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