Ontario cancels curriculum rewrite that would boost Indigenous content

Ontario's Ministry of Education has cancelled a project to update provincial curriculum documents about Indigenous issues.

Doug Ford government denies it ordered the move

The Wynne government promised in 2016 that Ontario's schools would teach all students about the legacy of residential schools and incorporate Indigenous perspectives into the provincial curriculum. (Reuters/Library and Archives Canada)

Ontario's Ministry of Education has cancelled a project to update provincial curriculum documents with Indigenous content.

Curriculum-writing sessions that were set to begin on Monday were halted at the last minute, according to multiple Indigenous educators who expected to be involved in the work.

One of the sessions involved revising curriculum in response to Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

The previous government of Kathleen Wynne committed in 2016 to update course content at the elementary and secondary levels — including social studies, history, geography and civics — to teach all students about the legacy of residential schools.

Indigenous educators and elders were to travel to Toronto to participate in the curriculum revision project over the next two weeks, but team members received emails on Friday afternoon telling them the plan was cancelled. 

Bureaucracy cut writing sessions, minister says

Although the new government of Premier Doug Ford says it did not order the cancellation, a statement from Education Minister Lisa Thompson suggests the move was made by the bureaucracy to cut costs. 

The ministry moved ahead with the cancellation unilaterally, with no direction from the minister of education.- Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson

"In keeping with the commitment Premier Doug Ford made to run government more efficiently, all ministries will seek to carry out initiatives in the most cost-effective way possible," said a statement issued Monday by Thompson's office.

The statement confirms the ministry cancelled three curriculum writing sessions, including those on: TRC curriculum revisions, American Sign Language, and Indigenous languages in kindergarten.

"The ministry moved ahead with the cancellation unilaterally, with no direction from the minister of education." 

Shy-Anne Bartlett, an Ojibway language expert from the Red Rock Indian Band, found out after she had travelled from Nipigon to Toronto that the curriculum work was cancelled. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

Thompson's statement did not address a question from CBC News about what cost savings the cancellation generated. 

The ministry "will continue to move ahead with"  the curriculum revisions related to the TRC, said Thompson, but did not indicate when that would happen.

"The ministry will work with experts, elders and Indigenous communities to develop the support materials for the updated curriculum," she said. 

NDP attacks 'damaging' move

The move is "a damaging step backwards on the road to reconciliation," said a representative from the Ontario NDP, now the Official Opposition party. 

"The curriculum in Ontario's public schools is outdated, and we simply have to do better for our children," said Peggy Sattler, the MPP for London West who was re-elected in the June election.

"Teachers, educators and families have been clear that they support bringing Indigenous education into the classroom, and are right to be alarmed if this is the approach the Ford government plans to take. " 

"I'm extremely disappointed," said Shy-Anne Bartlett, an Ojibway language expert who had travelled from Nipigon to Toronto for the curriculum writing project.

"I was super excited to be part of this team because it is such a pivotal point in our history, to be able to move forward," Bartlett said in an interview with CBC News. "It was my chance to be part of something that is historically relevant, not just for Ontario, but for Canada and also for our children." 

The president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, Harvey Bischof, also expressed disappointment in the move. 

"It sends a terrible to message to cancel at short notice this consultation in curriculum writing," said Bischof on Monday in a phone interview. 

"It doesn't even do one of the things that the government claims they're focusing on, which is to save money. They will have to eat cancellation costs for travel where it's too late to get out of those expenses."