Alberta education minister apologizes after test asks students about 'positive effect' of residential schools

Alberta's education minister apologized Thursday for what he calls "hateful material" — an online social studies question that asked students about the "positive effect" of residential schools.

Answer choices included 'children were taught manners' and 'children became civilized'

A photo of the multiple choice question began circulating after an outraged student posted it on social media. (Facebook/Jody Whiskeyjack)

Alberta's education minister apologized Thursday for what he calls "hateful material" — an online social studies question that asked students about the "positive effect" of residential schools.

Education Minister David Eggen has also told Alberta Education to review material used by the Alberta Distance Learning Centre, the source of the material, to make sure its use is "immediately discontinued."

A photo of the multiple-choice question was posted on social media by an outraged student, asking: "A positive effect of residential schools was" followed by four possible answers.

The choices were: children were away from home; children learned to read; children were taught manners; children became civilized.

"I was appalled to see such hurtful and offensive material given to an Alberta student," Eggen said in an emailed statement Thursday.

"I want to sincerely apologize to this student, their family, and anyone else who may have been exposed to this insensitive resource. There is no excuse for it — and there is no place for it in our schools.

"The legacy of residential schools is a dark period in our history, and we must journey together toward reconciliation. It is vital that this take place in a way that honours and brings awareness to the experiences of residential school survivors."

At an event in Bon Accord, north of Edmonton, Eggen said the offensive material underlines the importance of building new curriculum in the province, and for every Alberta school board to review its current curriculum material.

"For this kind of material to be still floating around in 2018 is just beyond the pale," Eggen said.

In his statement, Eggen said his deputy minister will contact every school board authority in the province Thursday "to ask them to take proactive steps to prevent students from being exposed to material like this."

He said he will personally reach out "to the student who was subjected to this hateful material to apologize." The student will be invited to a roundtable on Indigenous education that Eggen is hosting next week, he said in the statement.

'I can't take this back'

Eggen's statement followed an apology issued earlier Thursday by the superintendent of the St. Paul Education Regional Division.

"I can't take this back, so much that I wish I could, I take responsibility for it and for that I am truly sorry," Glen Brodziak told CBC News.

Brodziak said the student is taking a social studies class by correspondence with St. Paul Alternate Education Centre.

A photo of the multiple-choice question was posted on social media by an outraged student, asking: "A positive effect of residential schools was" followed by four possible answers.

The principal will reach out to the student's family, Brodziak said.

Alongside the photo the student wrote: "My teacher got me all the way f--ked up if he actually expects me to answer this s--t. F--king disgusted."

David Garbutt, superintendent of Pembina Hills Public Schools, which oversees the Alberta Distance Learning Centre, said he hasn't been able to determine when the "inappropriate" material was developed.

"It appears it was some years back because it adhered to an old system that we have," Garbutt said.

"But regardless, it's inappropriate, it's out of line. We have deleted it and we're going to be reviewing all of our course content to ensure that this never happens again."

'We are failing our students'

Angela Wolfe, associate director of the University of Alberta's Aboriginal Teacher Education Program, said the question posed to students is disrespectful, including to her own mother, a residential school survivor who recently died.

"I find it disturbing, highly disrespectful," Wolfe said. "And I mean disrespectful yes, to my mom, to myself, but I'm talking about disrespectful to those students who are having to answer this question.

"We are failing our students, all students in the school system, with questions like this."

St. Paul is 200 km northeast of Edmonton.