UCP and NDP push different visions of children’s education

Two years after Alberta’s UCP government introduced plans to overhaul the kindergarten-to-Grade-6 curriculum, progressives and conservatives continue to clash over how to educate the province’s children.

The clash mirrors debates under way in school jurisdictions across North America, where progressives push child-centered skills education that is chosen by the child or teacher to develop the skill being acquired, while conservatives favour a return to knowledge-based education involving whole-class absorption via lectures, a focus on memorization and on structured learning across all subjects.

The UCP remains committed to renewing Alberta’s decades-old curriculum, despite slowing down implementation because of widespread backlash of its knowledge-based model. The new curriculum focuses on literacy, numeracy, citizenship and practical skills, the government says.

“It will equip students with foundational reading, writing, and math skills, while introducing substantive studies on Albertan, Canadian, and world history. There is an increased focus on the development of work ethic, civic participation and citizenship, financial literacy, digital training, public speaking, critical thinking, and respect for different views. Students will have the essential knowledge, civic virtues, and outcomes to succeed in school and throughout life.”

In March, UCP Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced the latest revamped subjects – new science, French first language and literature, and French immersion language arts and literature – so they can be taught in kindergarten to Grade 3 starting in September, although school boards have the option of introducing them in later grates.

The NDP opposition has vowed to scrap the UCP reforms if it’s elected. “The UCP’s curriculum is a mess,” the NDP said. “We will immediately reverse the curriculum changes imposed by the UCP and launch broad public consultations within 100 days of being elected.”

The NDP and other critics have slammed the new UCP curriculum for being age inappropriate; lacking in proper consultation; burdening teachers who are struggling with too many newly introduced subjects, large class sizes and lack of supporting materials; being too focused on memorization instead of critical thinking skills. Some even called it racist, Eurocentric and misinformed.

The new UCP curriculum comes after the NDP announced its own plans to overhaul of the curriculum when it was in power. The NDP’s own version emphasized “financial literacy, climate change, the history of indigenous people and residential schools, and gender identity.” Critics have called it socialist indoctrination and ideological.

Meanwhile, researchers found the skills-based approach has resulted in poor academic performance and is hurting disadvantaged children.

“When the primary goal is not learning outcomes but social change, (why) does the evidence matter?” Howard Anglin, deputy chief of staff to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and principal secretary to Premier Jason Kenney between May 2019 and September 2020, wrote in 2021.

“One can explain to most reasonable people why it is important to learn about the Silk Road, but there is no arguing with someone who believes the goal of education is social engineering and denies that the curriculum should require students to learn specific historical facts at all.”

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This Issue deals with the following Policy Cards

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Revise the Curriculum

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Increase Spending in Education

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Push for Education Reform

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Push for Socialism

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Support for the Public Sector

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