High school students say mandatory CALM class leaves them feeling anything but

It's a course students have to take to graduate from high school. But unlike other core courses like English or biology, some students say CALM is a waste of time.

Career and Life Management Course is undergoing a review by Alberta Education

Tamara Toutand (left), and Christina Boulton say they aren't getting much out of the CALM course. (Nola Keeler/CBC)

It's a course students have to take to graduate from high school.

But unlike other core courses like English or biology, some students say CALM is a waste of time.

According to the Alberta Education website, the purpose of CALM (Career and Life Management) is to help students make well-informed life decisions, and to "develop behaviours and attitudes that contribute to the well-being and respect of self and others, now and in the future."

The course has been taught in Edmonton for decades, replacing what used to be called health class.

In addition to sex education, the course also quizzes students on their personality type and provides information on budgeting and how to prepare a resume.

But the three students who spoke to CBC News outside Edmonton's Centre High Campus last week said they didn't get much out of the course.

CALM — career and life management — is a required course to graduate from high school in Alberta. (Alberta Education )

"I've actually heard multiple people say it's a waste of time," Kurtis Denea said. "I've actually heard teachers say it's a waste of time."

Christina Boulton said that while the idea behind CALM is necessary, the course itself is not very helpful or applicable to the "real world."

Boulton moved out of her parents' home when she was only 15.

They should be teaching us about growing food and what taxes are and why we should be supporting the economy.- Christina Boulton, student

She said if she'd been taught more in the CALM course she took, she would have been better prepared for life on her own.

"If they're going to teach us a course that's supposed to be in preparation for the real world, they should teach us how to live, literally," she said. 

"They should be teaching us about growing food and what taxes are and why we should be supporting the economy."

Tamara Toutand agrees.

"It just gives you insight on yourself and it's questions about yourself and there's not much more," she said. "It's a pretty simple course."

St. Joseph High School student Tyra Davidson said she thinks CALM is good in theory — especially the part of the curriculum that teaches students about budgeting — but she thinks there needs to be some big changes to make it more useful.

"It needs to incorporate more life skills, such as taxes, what insurance options there are and how to research that, and maybe even skills like how to jump a car or change a tire," she said.

Course content part of six-year review

Alberta Education minister and former teacher David Eggen said he thinks CALM has a lot of room for improvement.

"Perhaps if we can connect it more to core areas and things that are on the top of mind for students, then we might be more successful," he said.

Alberta Education is in the first year of a six-year curriculum review of all subjects.

Eggen said the review is particularly needed for CALM.

"Job No. 1 is to make it more relevant," he said.

"If students are not engaged in anything that you're teaching, then you won't be successful."

'It almost sometimes feels useless'

Interesting course material is definitely something missing from CALM for Denea, Boulton and Toutand.

"It almost sometimes feels useless to go because you sit there and answer stupid questions that don't mean anything like, 'Where did you go to high school? How much money do you make monthly as a student? What do you want to be when you grow up?'" Boulton said.

"It's the same stuff they've been asking us since elementary [school] and it's just different words."

Eggen said a curriculum change will help.

"I think there are lots of places we can go working closely with parents and teachers and building a curriculum that's meaningful," he said, citing examples like financial literacy and sexual health and safety.

But it could be a tough sell to high school students.

Centre High student Kurtis Denea says he's heard students and teachers say CALM is a waste of time. (Nola Keeler/CBC)

Asked if she's learned anything practical from CALM, Toutand answered "not really."

Denea was even more blunt in his assessment.

"CALM just doesn't help anything, really," he said.

When asked if any of them know someone who says CALM is their favourite course, all three students gave a resounding 'no.'

"I don't think CALM should be a necessary," Denea said. "It should be something you take if you want it."




Nola Keeler is an award-winning journalist who has worked with CBC in Whitehorse, Yukon and Edmonton since 2000. She has worked as a host, reporter, news reader and producer for CBC. Send story ideas to nola.keeler@cbc.ca.