Montreal

Controversial Quebec history course still in 'pilot' phase, province insists

Even though the books have been printed and school boards are using the new program, a point man for Quebec's education minister insists the province's controversial new history curriculum could still be changed.

'The program is not going to be rewritten, but this remains an experimental year,' MNA David Birnbaum says

Liberal MNA David Birnbaum (left), seen here with Premier Philippe Couillard, is the parliamentary secretary to Quebec's education minister. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Even though the books have been printed and school boards are using the new program, a point man for Quebec's education minister insists the province's controversial new history curriculum could still be changed.

"This is a year where the teachers who are the experts on the ground need to give feedback and point to holes that remain in the program, and some can be filled," said David Birnbaum, the MNA for D'Arcy-McGee and the parliamentary assistant to Education Minister Sébastien Proulx.

"The program is not going to be rewritten, but this remains an experimental year."

Speaking on CBC Montreal's Daybreak, Birnbaum added that "the fact remains the minister has designated this a further pilot year and changes remain possible."

Course confusion

Chenelière Éducation has published a sample of its new history text book online. (Chenelière Éducation)

The new curriculum, which spans both Grade 9 and 10, has been criticized by educators and activists for failing to adequately incorporate the experience of the province's minorities and Aboriginal peoples. 

In May, Proulx announced that the course would remain in the pilot project phase this year while changes were made to better reflect Quebec's cultural diversity.

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

Many of the province's school boards, including the English Montreal School Board and Lester B. Pearson, decided to implement the curriculum this year anyway.

Several English school boards said they made the decision with reluctance, but that doing so would allow for the purchase of new text books subsidized by the Education Ministry and provide teachers with opportunities for professional development.

Teachers should use curriculum as 'spring board'

When asked to address criticisms that the curriculum doesn't include enough Aboriginal history, Birnbaum said teachers have the option of adding additional subject matter to the course.

"We have teachers, the best of whom understand that the curriculum set out is their spring board. And they adapt it," he said.

An increased focus on Aboriginal history was one of the key recommendations to come out of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission into residential schools.

Birnbaum said the province continues to look at ways to follow through on that recommendation at all grade levels.

"​I know that there are continuing discussions that came out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which have resulted in major curriculum change in other parts of the country and I know we are looking at those changes as well," he said.

English Montreal School Board chair Angela Mancini said her board will leave it to the discretion of teachers whether to and how to integrate Aboriginal history into their classes.

"Certainly I think we have to have Aboriginal history and it's definitely a part of our history," she said.

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