Alberta teachers got a chance to ask United Conservative Party leadership candidates about their plans for education on Wednesday.
Six of the seven candidates running for UCP leadership took questions submitted by teachers at the annual summer conference hosted by the Alberta Teachers’ Association.
The controversial new curriculum for Alberta schools was a main theme of the candidates’ forum, which took place at the Kinnear Center in Banff.
Candidate Leela Aheer said the curriculum as a whole isn’t where it needs to be and the government must get more input on it from educators. She said as a leader she wouldn’t make any education decisions without consulting with teachers.
“My door will always be open,” Aheer said.
“I’m not going to make you any promises because my job isn’t to promise you. My job is to work with you.”
Both Rajan Sawhney and Rebecca Schulz argued that the development and implementation of the new curriculum should be halted for now. Schulz added the extra pressure is not needed especially as teachers try to bring students back up to grade level for subjects like math and reading, which brought a hit during the pandemic.
“I don’t think it is fair to ask teachers to then also be giving a whole bunch of feedback on curriculum development moving forward as we’re trying to get kids caught up,” Schulz said.
The new curriculum for K-6 will be phased in this fall.
Take the ideology out of curriculum, Jean says
Perceived frontrunner Danielle Smith also proposed pausing the curriculum changes until students are back on track after the difficulties of the pandemic.
“The most important thing we need to do is stabilize what is going on in the classrooms…. we don’t want to have kids push through without foundational skills,” she said.
Candidate Todd Loewen said the right approach is not to completely throw out the curriculum and start from scratch.
“I think we have an opportunity to fix and correct any of the issues we have, both on implementation and actually the curriculum itself,” he said.
Former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean said he would make the curriculum a pilot project and review it in the coming spring so teachers can decide for themselves if they want to continue with it.
“The first thing I’m going to do if I get elected premier is take the ideology that is currently in our curriculum, and was before, out of it and make sure that it never happens again,” he said.
Jean also suggested breaking the curriculum into parts and rolling out one changed subject area a year.
Government’s ‘adversarial tone’ to public sector workers
One question candidates received from teachers was how they plan to work with the ATA and build the best education system possible, particularly since the government adopted an “adversarial tone” to public sector workers over the last three years.
Smith said rebuilding the relationship between government and teachers will be key to her government, while Sawhney said she recognizes the provincial government’s recent dealings with teachers haven’t been helpful.
“I recognize that the tone was adversarial, and the messages were not supportive. They should’ve been more supportive,” Sawhney said.
Schulz argued that the province must show more humility and admit when it’s made mistakes.
“We as a government need a different tone. We need a different approach. Albertans do feel like we’ve gotten entitled or arrogant, or that we’re not listening.”
Aheer pitched the idea of having a liaison in the education minister’s office who would work with the ATA, while Loewen said the government must simply have better relations with the ATA and other public workers associations. He also promised to meet more often with the ATA.
UCP members will choose their next leader, who will then become premier, on Oct. 6.