Residential schools legacy to be taught in all Alberta classrooms

Residential schools legacy to be taught in all  Alberta classrooms
Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson is aiming to have residential schools included in the new K-12 curriculum by 2016-17.Photo: Jeff Johnson.

The Alberta government is committing to the reconciliation process of addressing its own residential schools legacy by incorporating lessons on the difficult subject, along with more general Aboriginal content, into all of its classrooms over the next few years.

Both Education Minister Jeff Johnson and Aboriginal Relations Minister Frank Oberle recently announced the government’s plan to incorporate mandatory lessons on residential schools into its K-12 curriculum, currently undergoing a total redesign, by around 2016-17.

Johnson’s press secretary Dan Powers said the redesign is in its early stages, having just begun in February, meaning lesson plans are unclear as of yet, but he said the sensitive content will be adjusted for age and course appropriately.

“There’s a lot of good to be taught as well as the bad. FNMI (First Nations, Metis and Inuit) communities have such a rich history, and there’s so much there that the minister feels that it’s important to start early with our students and have that content available to them from a young age, right through their education,” Powers said.

Right now, the only mandated lessons on residential schools are included in Grade 10 social studies classes, which the department no longer feels is adequate.

“We’re proud that that’s there, but we need to go further,” Powers said. “This is the first step in that.”

The department is now engaging with Aboriginal partners from Treaties 6, 7 and 8, Powers said. The general reaction thus far has been great support for the initiative.

“It’s been really warmly received…People are thrilled about it. I think it’s a big step forward for the education system and for Alberta,” Powers said.

Though much of the initiative was sparked by the last meeting of Canada’s education ministers in Iqaluit, Powers said the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission across the country has been an inspiration and an incentive to the education system to take bigger steps toward creating awareness and healing.

“I think there’s just a general recognition amongst our government and our party and most Albertans that the time really has come to move forward and to include this content into the curriculum. It’s also part of the healing process with our Aboriginal partners,” he said.

An arbitrary roll-out date of 2016-17 has been set by the department, but Powers noted the priority is getting things done properly rather than by a specific deadline.

“There is no deadline for this; we’re going to take our time to get it right. So if it takes three years, if it takes four years, five years, as long as the government feels that adequate time has been put into it and there’s been exhaustive consultation with all of our partners, not until then would we move forward with implementing the redesigned curriculum,” he said.

Aboriginal content part of general overhaul

The addition of more Aboriginal content to the Alberta K-12 curriculum is part of a system-wide review currently underway in the province, which began in February.

The efforts are being led by the school boards, who are in the midst of an engagement and consultation process with a variety of stakeholders, from First Nations to non-profits and, more controversially, the private sector, including oil companies.

The inclusion of industry at the table, specifically on the development of K-3 curriculum being headed by the Edmonton Public School Board, has caused considerable public concern in Alberta.

An NDP-backed petition tabled last week in the Legislative Assembly contains 26,000 signatures asking the government to remove Cenovus, Syncrude and Suncor Energy from the list of partners helping to draft the future curriculum.

Powers said there are many members of the private sector adding their voice to the consultations, including Microsoft, Cisco Systems and environmental reclamation companies, and that the notion of oil companies writing classroom curriculum is “patently false.”

“At the end of the day, Alberta education designs the curriculum, writes the curriculum, determines what’s going to be in it and has final say over everything,” he said. “We just want a broad cross-section of representation from all sectors in the curriculum redesign process.”

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