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Alberta government releases latest draft of new social studies curriculum

Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides introduced the latest draft of Alberta's proposed social studies curriculum for elementary grades at Belgravia School in Edmonton on Thursday.  (Janet French/CBC - image credit)
Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides introduced the latest draft of Alberta's proposed social studies curriculum for elementary grades at Belgravia School in Edmonton on Thursday. (Janet French/CBC - image credit)

The Alberta government has released another draft social studies curriculum and outline that proposes to tackle Canadian and global history, ancient civilizations, economics, and the inner workings of political parties.

The latest chapter in a six-year battle over what children should learn in social studies came Thursday, when the United Conservative Party government released its second attempt at a kindergarten to Grade 6 curriculum.

It also released a broad overview of social studies topics that it says should be covered all the way through Grade 12.

"I'm confident that we are developing a social studies curriculum that meets the learning needs of all students and positions them for success," Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said at a news conference Thursday morning at Edmonton's Belgravia School.

Public outcry pushed the UCP government under then-premier Jason Kenney to take its 2021 draft of the social studies curriculum back to the drawing board.

Some social studies experts say although the topics and their order have been rearranged, their concerns about the government's approach to writing curriculum persist.

Nicolaides, who replaced Adriana LaGrange as education minister, ordered more engagement during the last year with the public, educators, professors, cultural groups and other interested parties.

A fall survey of nearly 13,000 respondents found little consensus on what topics the curriculum should cover, though there was some preference for lessons that helped children develop critical thinking skills.

The draft documents released Thursday say the curriculum for kindergarten students would start with introductions to landmarks and institutions in their communities. By Grade 2, they would learn about Canada, including the regions, leaders, Indigenous history, even taxes.

The curriculum for Grade 5 focuses on ancient civilizations, including their social and government structures. This is a departure from a previous draft that would have introduced some of these topics in Grade 2.

Junior high students would delve further into Canadian history and international relations. Grade 8 would include a deep dive into political parties, economics, ideology and party organization.

Although treaty education would begin in Grade 2, residential schools would not be taught until Grade 9. In its 2015 Calls to Action, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, treaties and Indigenous contributions be taught starting in kindergarten.

The outline of the curriculum for high school students proposes extensive coverage of European history, economic and political philosophers, world wars and the Holocaust, terrorism, monetary policy and "victims of communism."

The government is seeking public feedback on the draft through an online form until March 29.

Approach still outdated, academic says

Jean-Claude Couture, an adjunct faculty member and education instructor at the University of Alberta, was one of seven education academics consulted on the latest draft.

Couture said government officials resisted the advice the academics tried to give them about how to structure the curriculum.

"We would return to the next meeting and be told, 'Well, you had a very good idea. Unfortunately, it's been decided we can't do that,' " he said.

He said the resulting draft takes an approach that is outdated by decades, and still includes long lists of knowledge children must acquire without building skills and understanding.

Carla Peck, a University of Alberta education professor who leads a national project on social studies curricula, said many of her concerns about the UCP's first draft remain in the new iteration.

"They have missed the mark," she said on Thursday. "And I just find that profoundly regrettable."

Although Nicolaides said the new draft fosters students' thinking critically, Peck said outcomes that promote more intellectually complex tasks are missing.

University of Alberta professor, Carla Peck, said she was happy to see an emphasis on FNMI perspectives, but said those of LGBTQ and other groups seem to be missing.
University of Alberta professor, Carla Peck, said she was happy to see an emphasis on FNMI perspectives, but said those of LGBTQ and other groups seem to be missing.

University of Alberta Prof. Carla Peck says her concerns with the design and approach of a proposed new Alberta social studies curriculum remain. (Mirna Djukic/CBC)

"What we don't want are people who aren't able to think creatively or critically about how to address the problems facing our society today," said Peck, who was not consulted on the latest draft.

Critics of the 2021 draft called it Eurocentric, age-inappropriate, and too focused on memorization, adding that it excluded important perspectives. Peck said some of those perceived flaws remain in the new draft.

School board chairs from Edmonton public and Catholic schools, along with the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA), said they need to take time to analyze the latest draft before forming an informed perspective.

ATA president Jason Schilling said social studies teachers who were involved with the process have concerns about some topics moving to earlier grades. Municipal, provincial and federal levels of government, for example, are proposed to move to Grade 2 from their current place in Grade 6.

Seeking feedback

Nicolaides said feedback will inform a revised draft, which elementary schools can begin piloting starting next September. Unlike the previous social studies draft, the minister said he wants participants to pilot the material for a full school year, before making it mandatory in September 2025.

Most Alberta school divisions refused to pilot the previous social studies draft.

Both Schilling and the Opposition NDP raised concerns about the stress teachers will face preparing to pilot more new curriculum within six months, alongside recently introduced curriculum in math, science, English and French language arts and phys ed and wellness.

The current social studies curriculum is from 2006 and was assembled under the former Progressive Conservative government. In its dying days of power, that government began a project to overhaul all provincial curriculum, in French and English, for all grades.

This latest version of the curriculum is actually the third iteration. In 2018, the NDP government released its drafts of K-4 curriculum in all subjects. The drafts prompted outcry from the newly formed UCP, with then-leader Kenney pledging to shred any drafts that introduced socialist ideology into classrooms.

After being elected in 2019, the UCP revamped all subjects. In fall 2022, it mandated new elementary curriculum in math, English language arts and physical education and wellness.

New French language arts and science curriculum are mandatory in K-3 classrooms as of this school year.

There is no timeline for writing and implementing new curriculum for junior high and high school students.