NWT, on hunt for new curriculum, says BC is ‘most closely aligned’

Joseph B Tyrrell Elementary School is pictured in the summer of 2018
Joseph B Tyrrell Elementary School is pictured in the summer of 2018. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

The NWT government on Tuesday strongly hinted a move toward adopting much of British Columbia’s school curriculum is likely in the coming two years.

Education officials presenting an update to NWT MLAs said the BC curriculum was easily the best fit for the territory across four key criteria. The territory currently uses Alberta’s curriculum but has been unnerved by that province’s recently announced update, which was panned by experts and not developed with the NWT’s input.

A decision on the source of the next NWT curriculum is due in August or September this year, for implementation across the territory at the start of the 2022-23 academic year.

The NWT is too small to devise its own curriculum from scratch, officials say, so must instead use a “create, adapt, adopt” model: creating segments of its curriculum to plug gaps, adapting a southern province’s curriculum where needed, and trying to adopt the rest with minimal alteration.



“We do what we can to create our own curriculum,” said Jessica Brace, the territory’s director of curriculum development, in Tuesday’s briefing, but she said the NWT has no ability “to modernize the curriculum at the scale and pace required to create a new curriculum … for all subject areas.”

Instead, the NWT has traditionally relied on borrowing large parts of Alberta’s curriculum, augmented by made-in-the-North add-ons like the Northern Studies 10 module released in 2015.

Alberta has spent the past 12 years working on an update to its own curriculum. Until 2018, the NWT government says, it was an active partner in that work. But officials on Tuesday said that changed after the 2019 election of Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party to lead the province.

“Up until 2018 we were very happy with the development of the curriculum in terms of competencies and Indigenous perspectives being involved,” said Brace.



“However, there seems to have been a shift and … the new draft is not something the NWT had involvement in the creation of.”

The NWT has spent the past two years reviewing both the existing Alberta curriculum (not the new one, to which the territory had no special access) and the curricula offered by BC, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.

Across the four most important areas, MLAs were told, BC was the clear winner. The existing Alberta curriculum – most of which is presently used in the NWT – placed last of the four provincial contenders for inclusive schooling and incorporation of Indigenous perspectives.

BC scored highly for its full use of a competency-based curriculum (designed to help students become capable people through critical thinking, relevant education, and modern skills and ideas) and the availability of large-scale assessment tools, officials said.

“BC was the most closely aligned to the NWT’s priorities in all four areas,” said Brace, adding that from the perspective of relevancy to Indigenous students, it was “consistently the strongest.”

BC ‘very receptive’

That doesn’t mean a switch to BC is a done deal.

Despite the abundant skepticism the NWT’s education department appears to maintain regarding Alberta’s new curriculum, officials told MLAs they would still do their “due diligence” and fully review that curriculum before reaching a decision later this summer.

There are also concerns to be addressed regarding a move to BC, such as access to professional development and whether the software used in the province can be easily adopted in the NWT’s schools.



“It’s hard to imagine Alberta’s [new curriculum] is going to come out any better,” deadpanned Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly in response.

Education minister RJ Simpson said counterparts in BC had so far been “very receptive” to the NWT’s inquiries about its curriculum, “understanding that we’re not making a decision right now, we’re exploring the opportunity.”

An adapted version of BC’s curriculum is already used by the Yukon.

In theory, the NWT could seek to combine curricula from multiple provinces – for example, by choosing one for grades one to nine and one for grades 10 to 12 – but Rita Mueller, the NWT’s deputy minister of education, said that was unlikely.

A last point in BC’s favour is the relatively recent introduction of its current curriculum, which was revamped in 2016 – the most recent revision among the four studied by the NWT.

Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson said stability would be a plus.

“The opposition in Alberta have said they will introduce a new curriculum if they get elected. Regardless of which government is in power, we don’t want to have our education system go through that risk of changing the curriculum again,” Johnson said.

Education officials say they’re now discussing the NWT’s options with Indigenous governments, school boards and the NWT Teachers’ Association, while there will be a forthcoming opportunity for public feedback.