Alberta francophone school boards refuse to pilot test draft curriculum

As organizations representing Alberta francophones voice their objections to a proposed new elementary school curriculum, all of the province’s French language school boards have opted not to test the material next year.

Leaders say the proposed material does not meet their students' needs

Several Alberta francophone groups say they're concerned the government's proposed francophone curriculum doesn't meet the needs of students. (Submitted by Rebecca Carson )

As organizations representing Alberta francophones voice their objections to a proposed new elementary school curriculum, all of the province's French-language school boards have opted not to test the material next year.

For the first time, Alberta's school curriculum was simultaneously developed in English and French. But many Franco-Albertans say they are bitterly disappointed with the result.

Instead of francophones writing the Kindergarten to Grade 6 subjects in French, including French cultural references, the draft appears to be a translation of the proposed English curriculum, critics say. It's exactly what they didn't want to happen.

Sylvianne Maisonneuve, president of the francophone school board in northwestern Alberta, said her trustee colleagues decided this week not to pilot test the francophone curriculum because it doesn't meet their students' needs.

"We do not believe that the new curriculum respects the natural evolution of cognitive development of the student in general and specifically for our francophone students," she said.

The province's four francophone school boards provided names of curriculum experts to the government, she said. None were included in the writing process.

When working groups of teachers met to review the curriculum drafts, the work was done in English, not French, Maisonneuve said.

The result is a program of studies that lacks appropriate references to francophone language and culture, she said.

"We will not let up," she said. "This is too important to let up."

For example, some teachers have noted that English songs are included in the French curriculum instead of traditional French songs.

A curriculum that meets the needs of francophone students is not a luxury, said Reginald Roy, president of the association of Alberta's four French-language school boards. It's a constitutional minority language right the government should respect, he said.

The boards will closely study the francophone drafts and send feedback to the government, which he says he hopes they take to heart. He said they can identify the shortcomings of the program without testing it on children.

Piloting problems

Since the most recent draft curriculum documents were released last month, the provincial government has endured a torrent of criticism from teachers, parents and academics.

Observers are concerned about young children expected to memorize and recall reams of historical information that is Euro-centric and devoid of context. Some Indigenous critics have said the curriculum inadequately includes their perspectives and makes it sound as though First Nations and Métis people lived only in the past.

The Alberta Teachers' Association on Thursday launched a campaign to halt work on the curriculum until an independent group of teachers and academics who specialize in curriculum writing and design can review it.

"This curriculum is fatally flawed," association president Jason Schilling said. "Many teachers believe that putting it before children will cause harm and we cannot allow that to happen."

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has said the drafts still require testing and validation in classrooms, which is set to begin in September.

She hopes about 10 per cent of elementary classrooms can pilot test the material to provide rich feedback for necessary adjustments.

The program is set to become mandatory in all elementary schools in September 2022. The upper grades will follow in later years.

However, as schools grapple with the complexity of teaching during a pandemic, many school division leaders have already said they don't need the additional stress of testing the material.

As of Friday, 27 of Alberta's 63 school boards, representing about 59 per cent of Alberta students enrolled in publicly funded school divisions, have said no to piloting any of the program.

How the government will validate and test the francophone curriculum without the participation of any French-language school boards is unclear. In response to questions this week, LaGrange's press secretary, Nicole Sparrow, said the government is committed to ensuring "students studying in French receive a high-quality education."

Sparrow said encouraged francophones to provide written feedback on the drafts.

Raphael Gani, a University of Ottawa PhD student who studies francophone curricula, said the boards' lack of participation could put the government on shaky legal ground.

Raphael Gani is a PhD student at the University of Ottawa, where he has studied the development of francophone curricula, including in Alberta. (CBC)

Francophones could argue the government-imposed curriculum does not meet their needs, which could open the door for a constitutional challenge, he said.

Writing some of their own curriculum or borrowing content from another province may also be options, he said.

The risk of assimilation

Gani said the current draft is a step back from the current social studies curriculum, which was written in 2005 with anglophones, francophones and Indigenous people at the table.

The product is a disappointment to francophones who were promised by several governments they would have more input, said Pierre Asselin.

Vice-president of the French Canadian Association of Alberta, a lawyer, and a parent, Asselin said francophone schools exist to sustain French language and culture where they are a minority.

"Never mind even teaching the rest of the community about us, but if we can't even teach our  kids to be us, we're done. It's assimilation. We're done," Asselin said. "Because we're in a situation where if we don't combat it, it continues."

Many francophone organizations are working together to lobby the government to make changes, he said.

If diplomacy fails, they haven't ruled out a potential legal challenge, he said.


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.

With files from Fuat Seker and Audrey Neveu