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Northwest Territories drops Alberta K-12 curriculum after at least 40 years of use

The government of the Northwest Territories is transitioning schools to the kindergarten to Grade 12 school curriculum used in British Columbia, ending decades of using the Alberta curriculum. 

N.W.T. chooses B.C. curriculum after two-year review

The Northwest Territories is dropping the Alberta school curriculum in favour of the curriculum in British Columbia. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The government of the Northwest Territories is transitioning schools to the kindergarten to Grade 12 school curriculum used in British Columbia, ending decades of using the Alberta curriculum. 

N.W.T. Education Minister R.J. Simpson made the announcement Thursday, after his department spent two years reviewing western Canadian school curriculums to see which one best reflected the territories' educational priorities.

"We have gaps in achievement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students," Simpson told CBC News. 

"We need to ensure that we are teaching to Indigenous students in a way that they are going to relate to and is going to be valuable to them. "

Indigenous people make up half the population of the Northwest Territories.

A February 2020 report from the auditor general showed the N.W.T. government was failing its students, Simpson said, so there is a sense of urgency in adopting a new, relevant curriculum.

B.C.'s curriculum emphasizes Indigenous knowledge, and is student-centred and flexible. The curriculum was complete and scored well on a number of metrics during the review, he said.

Curriculum criticized

The news represents a significant shift for N.W.T. students, who have been taught a revised version of the Alberta curriculum for at least 40 years. Simpson thinks the practice may go back as far as the 1940s, though.

Critics believe the switch is another blow against Alberta's much-maligned draft K-6 curriculum introduced earlier this year. 

The social studies curriculum, in particular, has been criticized for being Eurocentric and lacking in Indigenous perspectives. Experts also say the material is too advanced for younger learners. 

Earlier this week, Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced the implementation of the curriculum in four subject areas, including social studies, is being delayed. 

Nicole Sparrow, LaGrange's press secretary, attributed the N.W.T. government's decision to a desire to adopt a curriculum that is ready to go. 

"We understand their decision to move quickly and partner with a province that has a finalized and implemented K-12 curriculum that is currently being taught in classrooms, like 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 N.W.T. government's decision is more evidence of why the draft curriculum should be ditched and not piloted in Alberta schools. 

"It's not appropriate for classrooms and our partners in the Northwest Territories are saying so much. They're saying moving forward with B.C. is a significant step forward," Hoffman said.

"Well, that means that Alberta is stepping backwards and our kids don't deserve that."

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