Facebook lies to you. Not necessarily in the way you think it does — although it probably does that too. I’m referring to how the Facebook algorithm creates an echo chamber around us of a relatively small group of people who commonly feel and think the same way we do.
So, when a big issue emerges, like the recently introduced draft K–6 curriculum, it can be difficult to tell whether the sentiment around it is as widely spread as our news feed would suggest.
This is why the Alberta Teachers’ Association uses public opinion polling to assess these opinions more objectively.
The most recent round of polling, conducted by Environics Research in late April, just returned some very interesting information about the draft curriculum.
When asked in an open-ended question what they’ve heard about the curriculum, people are most likely to provide responses like: it’s not good, the content is inappropriate, teachers are unhappy about it, people dislike it, it doesn’t have enough Indigenous content or it’s simply racist.
When asked if they feel the draft curriculum is likely to provide students with the skills they need to lead successful lives, using language that echoes the government’s own vision for the curriculum, a majority of Albertans say no.
Thirty-four per cent of Albertans strongly disagree that the curriculum will do that and another 19 per cent disagree somewhat. Only 17 per cent of Albertans agree that the curriculum will achieve the government’s stated objective.
Two notes in passing: first, about a third of respondents, on either question, will say they are not sure or that they don’t know; second, there would be a lot of people basing their response on perceptions and they may not have done a ton of looking into it. But perceptions do matter when it comes to government policy and politics.
And the perception is not good. Those who have an opinion on the curriculum are three times more likely to have a negative one than a positive one.
This is driving a more general opinion of the government in a bad direction too. We also asked people if they approve of how the government is handling K–12 education in the province. Here, 60 per cent of Albertans disapprove, compared to just 34 per cent who approve. Approval is at an all-time low over the 10-plus years we’ve been asking this question and it’s a whopping 10-points lower than just last month.
Approval ratings for the government on education are about as low as they are on handling the COVID-19 pandemic, according to polls done elsewhere.
When I think about these results, I have two observations.
First, I don’t see what the government has available as an exit strategy. The premier in particular has invested a lot of political capital into this curriculum fight, making it a key issue from day one when he started running for leader of the now-defunct PC party. But these numbers do not allow him to move forward with this draft. The Association has suggested a pause and an independent review, and I think he would be wise to take that suggestion.
Second, about a third of Albertans don’t have an opinion on the draft curriculum. That is why it is incredibly important for us to continue to talk about it. In particular, we need to engage people who are new to the conversation.
According to polls we have conducted in the past, people trust what teachers say — especially ones they know — so we need to make sure that more people know the problems that teachers, as professionals, see in this draft.
We need to talk about it on the phone, over Zoom and across driveways with our family and neighbours, because just doing it on Facebook won’t cut it. ❚
I welcome your comments. Contact me at email@example.com.