Literature seen as victim in English shake -up;Briefing;International

2nd July 1999 at 01:00
CANADA

Alberta teachers, school and university administrators, and even union leaders, are united in opposition to the latest English curriculum produced by the Alberta ministry of learning.

The high school curriculum scheduled to start in September 2000 is the last part of the kindergarten through high school English language arts curriculum to be put in place. It has been prepared under the Western Canadian Protocol, an agreement which commits the four Western Canadian provinces and three Northern Territories to a common curriculum.

The new curriculum is a major move away from literature-based courses to a more pragmatic communications model using a wide variety of media.

Patricia MacDonald, director of the programme development branch of the Manitoba ministry of education, which leads the development of the Common Curriculum Framework, explained: "Instead of learning a series of facts about language, students will organise their learning of listening, speaking, reading, writing, view and representing in relation to five outcomes that include personal response, managing ideas and information, artistry and the celebration of community."

The move has been welcomed by Alberta Learning (the education ministry of the right-wing Progressive Conservative government). But many teachers and administrators are critical of the changes.

Brenda Smithers, English department head for Edmonton's Victoria School, questioned the practicability of grading: "How am I to measure how students feel about how they explore ideas, poll them every Friday?" She also accuses the province of expanding the word "text" to hide its abandonment of literature. "They are now calling texts virtually anything that a student sees: a film, an essay, a magazine. " Alberta is already embroiled in a row over new maths courses.

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