Northwest Territories studying alternatives to Alberta school curriculum

The Northwest Territories is studying whether it should continue using Alberta’s curriculum in its schools, the territorial government says.

Alberta education minister says she has been assured N.W.T. review is routine

Alberta's Education Minister Adriana LaGrange's staff say they don't know what the Northwest Territories' plans are for using Alberta's curriculum in the future. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

The Northwest Territories is studying whether it should continue using Alberta's curriculum in its schools, the territorial government says.

The N.W.T has used portions of Alberta's K-12 curriculum and provincial exams since the 1970s, particularly in the high school grades.

"Exploring what options are available is a normal part of reviewing and renewing curriculum. As such, we have conducted research to explore how other provinces and territories approach curriculum," Christina Carrigan, a spokesperson for the N.W.T.'s department of education, culture and employment, said in an email last week.

The territory's review comes as Alberta prepares to make substantial changes to its K-12 curriculum in all subjects, in English and French, some of them controversial.

Adriana LaGrange, Alberta's education minister, said Wednesday afternoon she was assured by her N.W.T. counterpart earlier in the day that the curriculum review is routine.

LaGrange said she was told the review is underway because the N.W.T.'s existing five-year curriculum agreement with Alberta is coming to an end in September.

Drafts of Alberta's new K-6 curriculum are expected to be released publicly "in the coming months," and be tested in some classrooms come September, according to a spokesperson for Alberta's education minister.

Some curriculum experts and Indigenous educators were alarmed last year by leaked recommendations from curriculum advisers hired by the Alberta government. Social studies and arts advisers recommended removing some Indigenous content from previous draft documents. Experts said the Indigenous references that remained were shallow and tokenistic. 

Government-contracted social studies advisers also said lessons about residential schools and the negative effects of European settlers on Indigenous peoples were "too sad" for young children and should be delayed until Grade 9.

Although the former NDP government had planned to adopt a concept-based curriculum, the UCP government wants a knowledge-based curriculum, which would require all students to learn common sets of facts.

Carrigan did not answer questions about what territorial leaders think of Alberta's planned changes to its curriculum. She said the territory is looking at  curriculum from B.C., among other places. That province's new curriculum became mandatory for K-9 students in fall 2016 and was mandated for all high school students by fall 2019.

"The B.C. curriculum is modern and one where Indigenous world views seem to be embraced and encouraged," Carrigan said.

The territory has not yet made a decision, she said. Government needs input first from Indigenous governments, school authorities and the territorial teachers' association, she said.

Slightly more than half of N.W.T. residents self-identified as Indigenous in the 2016 census, according to Statistics Canada.

'Normal curriculum review,' LaGrange says

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said reports suggesting that the territory had decided against renewing its curriculum agreement with Alberta were "completely inaccurate speculation."

LaGrange said she had spoken earlier in the day with her N.W.T. counterpart, Education Minister R.J. Simpson.

She said it was their first conversation about the pending curriculum review and that she was assured it was routine.

"Prior to that conversation, the Northwest Territories had not reached out to my office, myself or my department," LaGrange said. 

"I spoke with the minister about the progress we've made in the curriculum development process, and he was very pleased with our commitment to addressing key principles of reconciliation and First Nations in our draft curriculum. 

"The minister also assured me that the Northwest Territories are simply going through their normal curriculum review process as the previous five-year agreement that they have with Alberta is coming to an end in September."

LaGrange said the minister told her that he and his government were looking forward to reviewing Alberta's draft K-6 curriculum once it is published.

She reiterated that the UCP government is committed to educating students about a diversity of cultures and perspectives, including Indigenous history.

"Regarding the new draft of our new curriculum, let me be very, very clear," La Grange said. "The future curriculum will include a broad and inclusive account of history, including Black history and Indigenous history.

"It will include First Nations, Indigenous and Métis perspectives. It will also address concepts and topics and issues related to anti-racism, particularly in social studies."

LaGrange said once the new curriculum is made public, all Albertans will be encouraged to provide feedback on the new teaching strategy.

Indigenous content in Alberta curriculum not negotiable, minister says

In the Alberta legislature on Monday, NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said it's a troubling sign when the N.W.T. government is looking elsewhere after relying on Alberta's curriculum for so long.

During question period, Hoffman said the education minister had bungled the curriculum renewal process started by the former Progressive Conservative government and advanced by the former NDP government.

"She's invited the premier's racist friends to hold the pen, and they want to erase Indigenous content in favour of rote memorization about European kings," Hoffman said.

Hoffman asked Education Minister Adriana LaGrange to confirm whether the N.W.T. has told Alberta it plans to use another province's curriculum. She also asked whether any other jurisdictions using Alberta's curriculum have expressed concern about planned changes.

Nunavut also uses portions of Alberta's curriculum, as do a network of 17 Alberta Accredited International Schools in Hong Kong, China, Mexico and elsewhere.

Including First Nations, Métis and Inuit perspectives in Alberta's new K-12 curriculum is not negotiable, Children's Services Minister Rebecca Schulz said on behalf of LaGrange.

"Alberta's future curriculum will include a broad and inclusive account of history, including Black history and Indigenous history," Schulz said. "It will absolutely also address topics, concepts and issues related to anti-racism, particularly in social studies."

The UCP government changed course from the NDP's "closed door, secretive curriculum review," and broadened the number of people consulted, Schulz said.

She did not address whether N.W.T. or any other jurisdiction has said it will stop using Alberta's curriculum.

LaGrange's press secretary, Justin Marshall, said the minister is unaware of any decisions made by N.W.T. about the use of Alberta's curriculum.

In an email last month, a Nunavut government spokesperson did not directly answer questions about that territory's use of Alberta's curriculum in the immediate future. Education department spokesperson German Bernal said the territory has a 20-year plan to develop its own curriculum and resources to replace curricula adapted from other jurisdictions.

"Any curriculum used in Nunavut must reflect the values of Nunavummiut (people of the territory), and respect Inuit and Indigenous perspectives," Bernal wrote.


Janet French

Provincial affairs reporter

Janet French covers the Alberta Legislature for CBC Edmonton. She previously spent 15 years working at newspapers, including the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca.