Ontario reveals new 'back to basics' elementary math curriculum

Ontario has unveiled its new “back to basics” elementary math curriculum, which includes new sections on financial literacy and coding.

Standardized math scores have been in steady decline for the past 10 years

Students will begin new lessons on financial literacy and coding when classes resume in September. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Ontario has unveiled its new "back to basics" elementary math curriculum, which includes new sections on financial literacy and coding.

Students in Grades 1 to 8 will begin learning the updated curriculum when the school year resumes in September.

According to the Ministry of Education, the hope is the new curriculum will improve student learning and boost the province's sagging math scores, which have been in a steady decline for the past decade.

The Progressive Conservative government has repeatedly blamed the previous Liberal governments for upending the math curriculum and focusing too heavily on experimentation and problem solving.

Documents provided by the Ministry of Education say the new curriculum will replace "outdated and abstract examples" with lessons that include "relevant, real life examples," such as setting a personal budget or making e-transfers. Students will also be expected to learn and memorize multiplication tables.

The curriculum also features a renewed focus on "getting back to basics to develop fundamental math concepts and skills," the ministry said.

The new math curriculum, which can be viewed in its entirety here, is broken down into the following sections:

  • Social-emotional learning skills in mathematics and mathematics processes.
  • Numbers.
  • Algebra.
  • Data.
  • Spatial sense.
  • Financial literacy.

Lessons on coding will be taught as part of the updated algebra section starting in Grade 1.

The financial literacy section is all-new for the 2020 school year. Students in Grade 1 will begin by learning about the value of coins and cash. By Grade 8, the lessons will cover areas including long-term financial planning, the calculation of interest rates and how to make use of customer loyalty programs.

The social-emotional learning section is also new. It is designed to improve students' confidence when studying math.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the new curriculum will better prepare students for their future careers.

"If we get this right today we can literally change the course of the workforce," Lecce said during a Tuesday news conference. He specifically pointed to the "competitive advantage" Ontario students will enjoy thanks to their early exposure to coding.

The province says it will also move toward a new report card format, where students will be given a grade for their overall math abilities, rather than individual grades for each section of the curriculum.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has been signalling his intention to revamp the provincial math curriculum since before his election in 2018, though educators have warned that improving math ability among students will not be a straightforward task.

Data from the Education Quality and Accountability Office, which administers the standardized tests, found that only 48 per cent of Grade 6 students were meeting provincial math standards in 2019, down from 61 per cent in 2009.

Ontario also announced on Tuesday that students in Grades 3 and 6 will not write EQAO tests during the first year of the new curriculum.