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Yukon school curriculum gets a reboot

The Yukon Department of Education is rolling out a new curriculum for every student in the territory.

The Yukon Department of Education is rolling out a new curriculum for every student in the territory.

Starting this September students from kindergarten to Grade 9 will be taught with more of a focus on the Yukon and the territory’s First Nations.

Grades 10 to 12 will be getting a similar update starting in 2018, education officials announced Jan. 23.

Yukon schools use British Columbia’s curriculum and standardized tests.

For the last three years B.C. has been working on an update and will be phasing out the current curriculum and exams.

The territory will continue to follow B.C.’s curriculum, said Yukon’s assistant deputy minister of education Judy Arnold. But the plan is to insert Northern context, including First Nations’ perspectives, into every grade.

The new curriculum is more flexible and focuses more on experiential learning and skill development.

“There is research to show that the more meaning that students can attach to their learning, the more they can connect it with their environment, the better they will do,” said Nicole Morgan, the assistant deputy minister of curriculum.

The revamp could mean more hands-on learning like field trips for science class, or a social studies lesson on governance that has a Northern focus.

“If we’re talking Yukon-wide we would be talking about governments Yukon-wide and the perspectives of First Nations,” Arnold said. “We’d be talking about the Umbrella Final Agreement.”

Between now and the beginning of the next school year, the department will be meeting with First Nations and local teachers to discuss how the new curriculum can be adapted for individual communities.

Arnold said Yukon schools will continue to have high academic standards.

Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said the goal of the new curriculum is to improve outcomes for students.

“We know that here, and across Canada, there continues to be a gap in the experiences and outcomes between First Nations and non-First Nation students, rural and Whitehorse students,” she said.

According to the most recent statistics, 57.3 per cent of First Nations students who started Grade 8 in 2009 graduated by the 2014-2015 year. Twenty-eight per cent of students had dropped out. The rest were still in school.

For non-First Nation students during the same time period, the grad rate was 79.8 per cent with a 13.1 per cent dropout rate.

Officials estimate the full roll-out could take four years.

Yukon Teachers’ Association president Jill Mason said making changes over time will be important so that teachers can learn to adapt.

“Usually when the department changes … curriculum, they change it one subject at a time. In this case they’re changing all of the subjects,” she said.

Outdoor learning and hands-on lessons have been taking place in the territory for a while and many teachers are already good at it, she said. But she added there are going to have to be resources put in place for teachers who have never taught that way before.

“The government is going to have to make sure that training and resources are available to teachers as they need it,” she said. “One of the big challenges for the government is going to be to figure out which teachers need what training.”

Since the 2013-14 school year, the summer training teachers receive has been focused on aspects of the redesign, Morgan said.

One of the most obvious changes in the new curriculum is the new requirements to graduate.

The five B.C. provincial exams students take under the current system will be no more. Teachers will be doing more in-class assessments as opposed to standardized tests.

“At this point in time I know there are committees involving many teachers that are working on new assessment directions,” Mason said. “We don’t know yet what assessment is going to look like, but we do know that assessment is going to have to change to some degree.”

The five standardized tests are being replaced with two new ones, one focused on numeracy and the other on literacy.

The numeracy exam will be introduced in the 2017-2018 school year. The literacy exam will be introduced in the 2018-2019 school year, the department said.

Students can write their numeracy exam in Grade 10, 11 or 12 and their literacy exam in Grade 12.

Both are requirements to graduate and will be included with students’ final grades when they apply for post-secondary education.

Officials with Yukon College say they’ll be working over the next few years to figure out how the new high school marks are weighted in the college admissions process.

Spokesperson Michael Vernon said it’s not expected to be a problem. The college already gets applications from students across Canada and around the world who come from a variety of different education systems, he said.

“This change, even though it’s happening locally, isn’t really that different than just adding another school system to the process.”

The Department of Education is hosting an information night about the changes on Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. at Elijah Smith Elementary School.

A French information session is being scheduled, but no date has been announced yet.

Arnold said the department will also be travelling to Yukon communities to talk to parents and First Nations about how to adapt the new curriculum. Details about those meetings have not been announced yet.

Contact Ashley Joannou at