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Cell phone use and curriculum up for debate at Alberta Teachers’ Association General Assembly

Over 500 delegates from across the province met in Calgary Saturday for the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) General Assembly, where the topics included curriculum, classroom sizes, funding and students’ smartphone use.

“(There’s a) big debate around funding and advocating to the government,” said ATA president Jason Schilling. “We are the least-funded jurisdiction in all of Canada.”

“That’s having a huge impact on our class sizes,” he added. “It’s impacting our resources available to our students, especially for students with special needs.”

The annual meeting sets the ATA’s budget along with polices for the year ahead. According to Schilling, Alberta is not funding education at the Canadian average which is impacting education workers’ ability to teach children.

“We also have the largest classroom sizes we have seen in a long time,”  said Schilling.  “We have students without resources, we have students not able to get the testing that they need to be done to learn about what some of their challenges are in learning and how to support them.”

Those challenges have led to teachers leaving the profession, according to the ATA president.

Literacy and numeracy exams

Saturday, the union was voting on a motion, looking at the literacy and numeracy exams, for students in grades K-3.

“These literacy and numeracy exams are put in place to see where our gaps in students were, but it’s taking a huge amount of time out of classrooms and it’s taking weeks for teachers to do it,” said Schilling.

Cheyenne Kopinsky teaches a grade one class in the Edmonton Catholic Schools Division, and says teachers have to be more included when the curriculum is drafted.

“We want to be at the table. We want to work alongside the government, because we want the best for our students, and we want to support the families and their learning,” said Kopinsky.

Social studies controversy

Beginning this fall a new social studies curriculum will be piloted for Alberta students in grades K-6. It will become mandatory in 2025.

 “It’s just adding another layer of workload for teachers,” said Kopinsky. “There is a lot fundamentally wrong with it. It fails to honour the Indigenous perspectives, the francophone perspectives across Canada and the identities of students in our classrooms.”

Another motion delegates are debating is banning cell phone use by students during instructional time.

“Teachers would actually have the professional autonomy and judgment of when they want to use those cell phones in their class,” said Schilling.

Students would still be able to use cell phones, if needed, for medical purposes.

Naomi Herrriman, is an instructional coach and inclusive education coordinator at the Evergreen Catholic School Division.

“Cell phones are taking up a lot of teacher time, administrator time, but also I hear from students a lot privately when I’m working with students who have exceptional needs, and they’re really feeling as though they can’t put the cell phone down,” said Herriman.

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