The Ontario government removed parts of an overarching theme in its elementary science curriculum that would have taught students the connections between Indigenous and Western science, documents show.
Just three weeks before the release of the science and technology curriculum in early March, Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s office directed Ministry of Education staff to delete the language that also included examining the “scientific and technological knowledge systems and perspectives of various cultures.”
The changes were contained in curriculum documents that were released in response to an Access to Information request by The Globe and Mail.
Provinces were called on to make Indigenous contributions part of school curriculum as part of the 2015 calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Jodie Williams, co-chair of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit Education Association of Ontario, said the deleted texts “further erases” the contributions of Indigenous people to science.
“It’s a missed opportunity to really correct how Indigenous people are portrayed in education, historically and even up until today,” said Ms. Williams, whose association was consulted on the curriculum. Curriculum documents undergo multiple revisions, especially after educators and other groups are consulted.
Ontario’s elementary science curriculum was last updated in 2007. The new curriculum takes effect this fall, and includes lessons on coding, skilled trades careers and food literacy.
The Globe received more than 900 pages of revisions to a particular section of the science and technology curriculum. The removed language was part of the expectations that would help shape lessons throughout the curriculum.
A note attached to one page read, “MO [Minister’s Office] Direction – Feb. 10, 2022: Please remove these expectations across all grades; the principle of the section is to be added into the front matter, but not as an expectation.” Three expectations were crossed out in red, which includes having students “explore real-world issues by connecting Indigenous sciences and technologies and Western science and technology, using ways of knowing such as the Two-Eyed Seeing approach.” This approach emphasizes the simultaneous appreciation of scientific knowledge through both Western and Indigenous perspectives.
The document crosses out the expectations of having students examine the knowledge systems of various cultures and analyze the contributions from people with diverse experiences.
Those three expectations were condensed in the final version with a more general statement of having students analyze science and technology contributions from “various communities.”
Asked about the changes, Grace Lee, a spokeswoman for Mr. Lecce, said “we remain focused on ensuring Ontario’s students excel at the foundations of math, science, and reading, so they can pursue good-paying jobs.”
She said the curriculum does include more Indigenous teachings than the previous curriculum. In Grade 2, for example, educators can teach students about the impact of human activities on air and water from First Nations, Métis, and Inuit perspectives, and in Grade 3, they can learn about plants grown by Indigenous people.
However, it is not clear if students would necessarily be exposed to this information. By not including it in the overarching theme and weaving the teachings of different communities into all lessons, Indigenous science is not part of the broader core values of the curriculum.
It is unclear why the language was removed, but some observers, including Ms. Williams, suggested that the government wanted to avoid a similar fate as the math curriculum. Last summer, the government quietly removed language on racism and colonialism from the preamble to its new math curriculum. Some media reports were critical of a section that referred to the content and context of math as subjective.
Isha DeCoito, an associate professor and the coordinator of the STEM specialty focus in teacher education at Western University, provided a research report to the government on the new curriculum that included culturally relevant teachings. She said that the deleted language was part of her research package.
Dr. DeCoito was concerned that the new curriculum is heavily focused on skilled trades but does not engage students as much in topics such as climate change.
“At the end of the day, what is does is it discourages students. Students cannot identify with what’s in the curriculum. It’s so far removed from what happens to them,” she said.
Ms. Williams was “disappointed” that much of the input her association provided last summer wasn’t included in the final version. She wanted to see explicit references to Indigenous knowledge, including ties to the land and water systems, in the overall expectations of the curriculum.
She said that while Western science may be considered valuable, it also “got us into climate change.”
“Indigenous knowledge systems that have been tested and true over thousands of years and have a lot to offer in terms of innovation, design, technology. It’s just frustrating because it’s a missed opportunity.”
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