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Alberta panel suggests schools ‘balance’ climate change, oil sands lessons

The panel recommends students learn all views about climate change along with the value of the province's oil and gas sector

January 30, 2020  The Canadian Press

CALGARY — Alberta’s education minister is endorsing a panel report that recommends school children learn all views about climate change along with the value of the province’s oil and gas sector.

Adriana LaGrange says she is receiving reports from parents of “extremist views” being taught in schools.

“There was a particular document that was shown to me recently – and I currently have my department exploring – in terms of our children being taught that they are the final generation to deal with climate change,” LaGrange said.

“Climate change is real, but we do want that presented to our children in a balanced way.”

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Asked how climate change would be taught in a balanced way, LaGrange replied: “We would be looking for research, evidence-based knowledge to be transferred to our students, and that will be included in the curriculum at age-appropriate time periods.”

LaGrange formed the panel last August to explore the best ways to improve the kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum. Its report was released to the public Jan. 29.

One of the recommendations urges the government to “ensure the social studies curriculum reflects a balance of perspectives with respect to the importance of Alberta’s resource-rich economic base in relation to the impact on the economy, families, services and government.”

Panel member Glenn Feltham said environment and climate change need to be taught, “but that is part of a broader context that (students) need to learn about … the nature of Alberta’s economy, the nature of our history (and) the scientific research we are doing in things such as the oil sands to lessen the impact on climate.”

The report echoes the policy of Alberta’s United Conservative government, which campaigned and has governed on a promise to reframe the terms of what it has called a damaging, one-sided debate on climate and the role of Alberta’s energy industry.

The UCP has set up a $30-million a year “war room” to promote the oil and gas sector and to challenge what it deems to be deliberate misinformation on the impact of its bedrock industry on the environment.

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said she favours students being given all the facts and taught to think critically, but said when LaGrange calls for balance, it usually means subliminal imbalance.

Hoffman noted that last spring, LaGrange brought in legislation affecting gay-straight alliances in schools. The minister said the changes were designed to balance the rights of children, parents and schools. Hoffman said the result was a disincentive for children to join the social groups, an accusation LaGrange has rejected.

“I do think there are ulterior motives here,” said Hoffman.

“It’s very clear this government has a very significant bias. They are spending $30 million a year on a war room to attack facts.”

The panel’s report made multiple recommendations on how to transform the curriculum, including standardized literacy and numeracy tests in Grades 1 through 5 to catch and correct any learning difficulties.

Its members are also urging a focus on basic learning on a foundation of numeracy and literacy.

They further say students need to be exposed to potential job and career opportunities outside the classroom, and input from employers should be part of curriculum development.

Members of the public are invited to review the recommendations in an online survey until Feb. 24.

An extensive curriculum review began in 2016 under the former NDP government. It involved all grades at a cost of $64 million.

That review was to be completed in stages, with the results for kindergarten to Grade 4 rolling out last spring. But the NDP lost the April election and the UCP put the NDP plan on hold while doing its own review.

The NDP’s revised kindergarten to Grade 4 curriculum also focused on numeracy and literacy. Feltham said while there are elements worth keeping from it, it could be further strengthened to meet the goals of his panel’s report.