English school boards to use controversial history course next year

Some of Quebec's English-language school boards will use the province's new high school history curriculum next year, despite criticism it fails to adequately represent minorities and Aboriginal peoples.

EMSB, Lester B. Pearson among those which plan to use new pilot curriculum for Secondary III next year

A 1908 painting by George Agnew Reid showing the arrival of Samuel de Champlain on the site of Quebec City. Critics of a proposed new school history curriculum say it focuses too much on the history of the French and not enough on the experiences of minorities and First Nations. (Library and Archives Canada)

Some of Quebec's English-language school boards, including the EMSB and Lester B. Pearson, have decided to use the province's new high school history curriculum next year. That's despite criticism it fails to adequately represent the experience of minorities and Aboriginal peoples.

Suanne Stein Day, who chairs the Lester B. Pearson board, told CBC News that her school board will move forward with the new course, with the understanding that teachers will have "leeway" in terms of how the two-year course is taught. 

"We do share the concern that many others have stated already ... that the content doesn't fairly represent many of the minorities and many First Nations people," Stein Day said Friday.

"We'd like to work with the ministry to enhance that part of it, but the methodology and the method of delivery of the course, the teachers seem to be very much in favour of."

The Eastern Townships School Board also confirmed it would use the new curriculum.

The decision comes amid confusion over whether schools should implement the new controversial, two-year course, which was piloted in some 30 schools in 2015-16. 

Education Minister Sébastien Proulx announced last month that the course, which was originally slated to be in all Secondary III classrooms next fall, would remain in the pilot project phase for another year while changes were made to better reflect Quebec's cultural diversity.

He later indicated the changes would only be minor and that any school wishing to use the new pilot curriculum would be permitted to do so.

Meanwhile, new text books have already been sent to the printers and training dates for teachers of the new curriculum have been set.

Decision made 'after much deliberation'

Chenelière Éducation has published a sample of its new history text book online. (Chenelière Éducation)
The EMSB would not comment on its decision, but an email from a top administrator outlined the reasons to proceed with the curriculum.

In a letter to EMSB teachers, Sandra Furfaro, the board's director of educational and technology services, said the decision to go ahead with the new course was "taken after much deliberation."

The email, obtained by CBC News, said the EMSB "decided to implement the new History of Quebec and Canada program in Secondary III" with the understanding that "there may be some changes to it before it is finally approved by the Minister of Education, particularly in Secondary IV."

The veracity of the email was confirmed by three teachers.

We're not asking for himto tinker with the program. We're asking for it to be overhauled.- Robert Green, head of social sciences at Westmount High School

According to Furfaro, the decision to use the new curriculum will make it easier for students to transfer from one school to another, allow for the purchase of new text books subsidized by the Education Ministry and provide teachers with opportunities for professional development.

She also said it was "unanimous among the nine English school boards," although a representative from at least one school board, New Frontiers, said a final decision had not been been made.

'Missed opportunity' for improved Aboriginal history

Rob Butters, director general of the New Frontiers School Board, which represents English-language schools in southwestern Quebec, said the curriculum is on the agenda for a board meeting next week.

Butters said he has concerns about the new curriculum, but he added that the school board "doesn't want to miss any of the training and materials coming out."

Quebec Education Minister Sébastien Proulx announced in May he would make changes to the piloted curriculum. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Robert Green, the head of Westmount High School's social sciences department, said he's skeptical Proulx and the Education Ministry will make any major changes to the curriculum going forward.

"We're not asking for him to tinker with the program. We're asking for it to be overhauled and for the process to start again with the proper and meaningful consultation of the communities implicated," he said.

Green said Quebec "missed an opportunity" to offer improved greater focus on Aboriginal history, meeting one of the key recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

The new curriculum was first developed under the previous Parti Québécois government. It was meant to replace the 2006 edition of the provincial curriculum, which was criticized for being repetitive.

The new curriculum breaks up the required history course over Secondary III and IV.


Benjamin Shingler is a senior writer based in Montreal, covering climate policy, health and social issues. He previously worked at The Canadian Press and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal.

with files from Steve Rukavina