Faced with a controversial K–6 curriculum and a government that appears committed to rolling it out despite widespread criticism, it’s important to keep up the pressure on elected officials.
That was one of the takeaway messages expressed during a public forum hosted by the Alberta Teachers’ Association via YouTube and Zoom on May 17.
More than 300 people logged into the forum, which featured four panellists: Jason Schilling, ATA president; Mark Swanson, ATA Professional Development co-ordinator; Richelle Marynowski, University of Lethbridge education professor; and Brandi Rai, president of the Alberta School Councils’ Association.
Swanson, a former Alberta Education official, explained that the draft curriculum traces its roots back to 2008 and the Inspiring Education initiative spearheaded by then premier Ed Stelmach and then Education Minister Dave Hancock. He noted that this was six premiers and six education ministers ago.
Swanson also explained that curriculum development in Alberta has traditionally followed a well-established process: bring a large group of teachers and education professors together under the leadership of top officials from Alberta Education, and follow an organic, iterative process to develop draft curriculum, which is then shared with a wide variety of stakeholder groups.
“[The result] is really solid curriculum,” Swanso n said.
Some attendees were interested in knowing more about who actually wrote the curriculum. Swanson said that since the UCP government took over the process, it’s deviated from the norm and there are many unknowns.
“We know one thing for sure, teachers weren’t invited to participate in the process of writing the curriculum. None of those usual processes were followed,” Swanson said.
“We don’t know who actually wrote it. We’ve asked on several occasions … The minister is very evasive when that question is posed and one is only left to speculate.”
Marynowski stressed the importance of involving a wide variety of groups in curriculum development, including a variety of curriculum experts, such as those with specific grade-level expertise and those who can see the whole of the curriculum.
“What we really need to have is a group of people that are invested in taking a look at the curriculum from all different perspectives,” she said. “I think business people are very important … but their voices should not outweigh those of the teachers.”
‘Keep at it’
Rai explained that the Alberta School Councils Association has a new policy around curriculum and is looking for meaningful engagement that’s free from the influence of elected officials and provides adequate time for implementation. She noted that the curriculum content and rollout has created a groundswell of discontent among parents.
“Quite frankly, they’re enraged,” she said. “These are their babies and I don’t think that they’re very appreciative of the lack of engagement prior and the rushed implementation.”
A common question from forum attendees centred around what parents and teachers can do to influence the government to reverse course. Rai suggested more of the same.
“I think we really [need to] keep putting pressure on the MLAs because we were promised accountable leadership. We were promised transparency and that’s not been happening,” she said. “I think we [need to be] very clear as parents, that the choices that are made this year and next year when it comes to our children impacts what you do in the future politically.”
Schilling said that teachers have been very active in speaking out, writing letters to elected officials and engaging with their MLAs.
“You’re doing all the right things so far,” he said.
“It’s a difficult thing to do and it doesn’t necessarily always come with quick results … Keep at it. Keep at it.” ❚
See for yourself
The forum is available for viewing on the ATA’s YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/albertateachers.
SCREEN CAPTURE / CORY HARE
University of Lethbridge professor Richelle Marynowski shares her thoughts on the government’s draft K-6 curriculum during a virtual forum hosted by the ATA.