The following article was published in the Lethbridge Herald on March 26, 2014.
During the last couple of years, the Lethbridge Herald has offered local superintendents an opportunity to write a weekly column on education. Each of us has written about our own local initiatives, as well as the changing face of education. This consistent communication is important, as a lack of information allows for misconceptions around the direction of education in Alberta. Last week, the Minister of Education provided a letter to all parents to further clarify this direction and calm some unfounded fears.
Although there is much innovation in the system currently occurring, the work on the curriculum is seemingly causing the most consternation. The first erroneous myth to spread like wildfire is that literacy and numeracy will no longer be a focus in this new education system. Nothing could be more contrary as literacy and numeracy are fundamental in curriculum redesign and need to be further embedded in all subjects. The mastery of basic skills in both of these areas is foundational for student success in future years.
While excellent teaching in the classroom will be the most important factor to impact student learning, a robust, challenging and practical curriculum must also be present. For years both teachers and students have articulated that there is an overload (1400+) of curricular outcomes. It is unfathomable for teachers to teach with any great depth or students to have any rich experiences with that number of outcomes. Consequently, one of the major roles of the re-design process is to thin the curriculum to ensure that teachers and students can delve into the subject area more thoroughly. Simply “covering” the curriculum is insufficient and needs to be replaced with the teaching and learning of essential outcomes- those that a student “needs to know” as opposed to “nice to know.”
Furthermore, subject areas must be taught, like in real life, as inter-related. Cross curricular outcomes will enhance subject specific disciplines and raise the level of student engagement. Language arts and social, math and science and health, wellness and fine arts must be seamlessly woven into the day to day classroom. Engaged students, learning relevant and practical curriculum stay in school. With 1 in 5 students not completing high school within five years in Alberta and a cost to Canadian society of $37 million annually (Hankivsky, 2008), it is fairly understandable why curriculum redesign with a focus on student engagement needs to be a priority.
The education system must adjust to address the growing needs of our society. Students need to be more creators of information as opposed to consumers. They must be able to communicate effectively both with and without the use of technology. Curriculum must unleash opportunities for students to work alone to build resiliency, as well as in groups to master collaboration skills. And finally, students must become problem solvers and critical thinkers. Curriculum redesign is just part of the vision of Inspiring Education, a vision that will lead students to become, “Engaged Thinkers, Ethical Citizens, with an Entrepreneurial Spirit.”