The Government of the Northwest Territories is in the process of transitioning schools to pre-kindergarten to the grade 12 curriculum used in British Columbia, ending decades of use of the Alberta curriculum.
NWT’s Secretary of Education RJ Simpson made the announcement Thursday, after his department spent two years reviewing Western Canadian school curricula to see which best reflected the areas’ education priorities.
“We have differences in achievement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students,” Simpson told CBC News.
“We need to make sure that we teach Indigenous students in a way that they can relate to and that will be valuable to them.”
Indigenous people make up half of the population of the Northwest Territories.
A February 2020 auditor general report showed the NWT government was failing its students, Simpson said, so there is a sense of urgency in adopting a new, relevant curriculum.
BC’s curriculum emphasizes indigenous knowledge and is student-centered and flexible. The curriculum was complete and scored well on a number of points during the review, he said.
The news marks a major shift for NWT students, who have been learning a revised version of the Alberta curriculum for at least 40 years. However, Simpson thinks the practice dates back to the 1940s.
Critics believe the move is another blow to the much-maligned concept of K-to-6 curriculum introduced in Alberta earlier this year.
The social studies curriculum, in particular, has been criticized for being Eurocentric and lacking Indigenous perspectives. Experts also say the material is too advanced for younger students.
Earlier this week, Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced that implementation of the curriculum in four subject areas, including social studies, is being delayed.
Nicole Sparrow, LaGrange’s press secretary, attributed the NWT government’s decision to a desire to adopt a ready-to-use curriculum.
“We understand their decision to act quickly and partner with a province that has a final and implemented K-12 curriculum that is currently being taught in classrooms, such as British Columbia,” Sparrow said in an email to CBC News.
“In contrast, Alberta is still in the early stages of the K-12 curriculum renewal process.”
Meanwhile, opposition NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman believes the NWT government’s decision is more proof why the draft curriculum should be ditched and not trialled in schools in Alberta.
“It’s not suitable for classrooms and our partners in the Northwest Territories are saying so much. They say moving forward with BC is an important step forward,” Hoffman said.
“Well, that means Alberta is stepping back and our kids don’t deserve that.”