March 26th, 2014 ~ Vol. 84 No. 12
Curriculum criticism doesn't add up
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Alberta’s Minister of Education
Recently, much has been made of the government's efforts to ensure that Alberta's curriculum is more responsive to the many different ways in which students learn.
As Alberta’s Minister of Education, I feel parents deserve to hear directly from me about my ministry's efforts to make the provincial curriculum better suited for a fast-moving and changing global environment.
Along with being the minister, I'm also a father of three children in the education system, and I too have experienced some of the frustrations expressed by parents in recent weeks. This is why I believe it is important for me to set the record straight about the reforms currently underway.
I understand why some parents would be concerned with the notion that the mastery of the “basics” –skills such as arithmetic and reading – will play a less important role in the new curriculum than they did before. If this were the case, I would be concerned as well. But fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
I wish to assure parents and students that these basic skills will serve as the foundation and starting point of every change made to the curriculum. What they won’t be is the end point. Through inquiry-based learning, we’ll build upon these basic, foundational skills by developing additional competencies that the business community and parents tell us are so critical.
The conventional method of teaching core concepts, whereby students rely heavily on memorization, versus a more engaged, inquiry-based method are not mutually exclusive approaches to education. In fact, I believe it is crucial that we develop a curriculum that uses the best of both approaches.
However, surviving on mere memorization is a thing of the past. The modern economy demands creativity and problem solving, the application of critical thinking and an ability to collaborate and communicate - skills which lie at the heart of Alberta's curriculum redesign process.
Top performing education jurisdictions, like Alberta, have increased their focus on these 21st century skills. We can't ignore that without strong abilities in these areas, our kids will be left behind.
But we also can't ignore the concerns of parents.
This is why we are responding in a thoughtful and collaborative manner. The redesign process is being led by parents, employers, teachers, students and school authorities, all of whom are working together over the next two years to develop a curriculum that successfully weaves new competencies in with core skills like numeracy and literacy. Doing so will help reinforce literacy and numeracy across all subjects and better focus content that has ballooned to approximately 1400 outcomes our teachers are expected to cover.

Despite recent criticism, parents should know and take comfort in the fact that according to the most recent international tests our K-12 students remain at the top of international rankings. Alberta’s overall results are tremendously positive. Out of the 74 jurisdictions from around the world that took part in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey, Alberta ranked 11th in math, 5th in reading, and 4th in science. Of particular note is that Alberta's 15 year olds are significantly outperforming Alberta's adults in these OECD rankings.
Our strength and performance internationally is due in part to Alberta's willingness to continually adapt. This year is a great example.
In response to years of consultation and research, under premier Redford, we recently launched some groundbreaking initiatives. The new Duel Crediting program, for instance, blurs lines between K-12, post-secondary and industry credentialing. The High School Flexibility Program empowers teachers to customize learning to better address individual student need. By eliminating PAT's and implementing a more robust standardized assessment at the start of the school year, we will provide parents and teachers with better information on how to tailor each child's education plan going forward and measure improvement throughout the year.
Curriculum needs to evolve as well. The days of a small group of educators taking 10 years to review curriculum by subject are long over. We need to be more nimble and create curriculum that is more in tune with the local community and economy. Our curriculum must allow for creativity and excellence in teaching to shine through. We must embrace the individuality of the learner and ensure subject experts are teaching our kids. In short, our curriculum must become more relevant.
We've been asked to listen and that's exactly what we're doing. But the truth is that Alberta is at the top because we have not been afraid to take action. I won't apologize for putting the success of our children first but I also commit to listening in order to get it right.
At the end of the day we must ask ourselves, are we preparing our children for their future or for our past?
March 26th ~ Vol. 84 No. 12
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