Proposed curriculum inspires debate

Education: Program is inquiry based

By: Bruce Campbell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014 10:53 am

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Inspiring Education won’t mean education will spiral downwards, according to administrators in the two major school boards.

However, one superintendent would like Alberta Education to shift into low gear in regards to the change in curriculum.

“I think the direction of Inspiring Education is okay, but I think slowing down would be wise,” said Scott Morrison, Christ the Redeemer School Division superintendent.

“The bottom line is we used to take several years to develop new curriculums. Now we are basically have different boards to develop new curriculums in under two years. If we take time with the development, give teachers the time to digest it, they will a more successful implementation.”

Inspiring Education is an attempt to “engage students” using inquiry education. Rather than students simply learning the formula to calculate the area of a triangle, they understand why that formula works.

“It’s understanding the reason of why we are doing the formulas,” Morrison said. “That is what the new curriculum does, but great teachers have been doing that for a long time.”

Todd Schmekel, Foothills School Division assistant superintendent of learning services, said the recent controversy about Inspired Education is because those sitting under the dome in Edmonton have kicked around the proposed curriculum.

“It’s really what every parent wants for their kids,” Schmekel said. “It’s the ability to take some information, critically think about it and make a decision about it and we have been moving in that direction for a number of years. I think it’s become a bit of a political football and it isn’t the change everyone thinks it is.”

He said the curriculum is being redesigned, not rewritten.

“Teachers and kids both know that you can’t solve a problem without some basic understanding,” Schmekel said. “The facts, the figures, the skill pieces will still all be there, they will now be used to help solve problems.”

He said Foothills School Division has been implementing much of the Inspiring Education methodology for years.

“For Foothills School Division there won’t be an ‘ah-hah moment,’” Schmekel said. “It will be more like ‘What took so long for everyone else to get here?’”

He said speculation students are given nothing and then have to figure out things is nonsense.

“They are given information and taught things and they use it to take the next step,” he said. “You don’t tell someone to build a house and you don’t give them a saw, wood or nails. You give them the materials and the training.”

Much of the criticism for the methodology for Inspiring Education was due to Alberta finishing 11th in math, fifth in reading and fourth in science in the 2012 international PISA tests, when results were released in December. Three years earlier, the Province had ranked eighth in mathematics and second in science and reading.

Schmekel said the PISA results don’t tell the story.

“People are coming from ‘Kids don’t know basic skills’ but if you actually dissect those exams, the sections Alberta kids are doing better than the rest of the world is on the basic skills,” Schmekel said.

“Where they are not doing as well is the problem solving. For us to go back to a nostalgic-type curriculum, the students already have that skill set.

“We need to get to the next level.”

Wildrose Education critic Bruce McAllister said he has heard plenty of complaints about not getting back to the basics of education.

“My inbox is overflowing with emails and my phone never stops ringing from parents, teachers who are frustrated by this movement away from the basics in school,” said McAllister, the MLA for Chestermere-Rocky View. “Nobody in their right mind would oppose positive change and to prepare our kids for the future. But throwing out the tried, tested and true methods that have worked for generations in setting Alberta at the top of the scales is ridiculous.

“That’s why you have 12,000 parents on a petition saying: ‘Please, teach my kids vertical addition and subtraction and the times table.’ Somewhere along the line Alberta Education has taken a giant U-turn in preparing our kids for the future.”

He said the PISA results show the number of math illiterate students in Alberta has doubled from seven to 15 per cent since this new approach has begun.

“If this was a medical experiment, you would pull it instantly,” McAllister said. “But for some reason, they (Alberta Ed) are pushing on and digging in.”

Dan Powers, Alberta Education spokesperson, refutes the fundamentals of education is going the way of the dodo bird.

“The Wildrose has just been spreading confusion on this issue and they have been doing it deliberately,” Powers said. “It (Inspiring Education) is the vision of education and mastering the fundamentals is a major component of that.”

He said presently children are learning the basics, “but what the curriculum doesn’t currently have is the explicit mention of an ability to recollect basic math facts. The expectation was if you are able to apply knowledge and concepts, you are going to remember them.”

Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson said, in a letter to parents, developing a new curriculum will not mean getting rid of the basics.

“I wish to assure parents that these basic skills will serve as the foundation and starting point of every change made to the curriculum,” Johnson wrote. “What they won’t be is the end point. Through inquiry-based learning, we’ll build upon these basic, foundational skills while developing additional skills that the business community and parents tell us are so critical.”


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