TORONTO — Ontario elementary students will be taught a new math curriculum starting in September that incorporates learning to code, expanded learning on financial literacy, and a return to memorizing multiplication tables.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced the new curriculum Tuesday and defended rolling it out in the middle of a pandemic, which will likely see students juggle both modified in-class learning and online lessons next year.
"I would argue from a competitive landscape we must take action immediately to improve math scores," he said.
"I appreciate the broader challenge around us, but we must move forward with these necessary reforms to give hope to these students that when they graduate they can aspire to get a good paying job...If we get this right today we can literally change the course of the workforce."
But teachers and opposition politicians criticized the timing of the curriculum rollout. Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario president Sam Hammond said it will take time to get right.
"Educators, students and parents have all grappled with the stressful learning conditions forced on us by the COVID-19 pandemic," he said in a statement.
"Given the significant changes to the math curriculum, and the fact that Ontario is still in the midst of a pandemic, successful implementation will require more than the two-month timeline that the ministry has set."
The NDP and Green party said introducing a new curriculum mid-pandemic adds more uncertainty for both students and teachers.
Lecce has blamed a decline in standardized testing scores on the former Liberal government's curriculum, which focused on problem-solving that grounds math in its application.
The new curriculum is part of a $200-million math strategy with a "back to basics" approach.
"We're focusing on fundamental math concepts and skills like learning and recalling math facts including multiplication," Lecce said.
"Yes, parents, that means memorizing times tables is back for our kids."
Premier Doug Ford said it is Ontario's first new elementary math curriculum in 15 years and will teach saving and spending from Grade 4, how to budget starting in Grade 5, and financial planning starting in Grade 6.
"These are everyday skills needed for lifelong success and that's something every parent wants for their children," he said.
"Starting in September, parents can look forward to a math curriculum that not only goes back to basics, but equips our next generation of leaders and community builders with the math skills they need to build a brighter future for all of us."
Ford announced that standardized EQAO tests will be cancelled for Grades 3 to 6 in the upcoming school year.
The new curriculum includes teaching coding starting in Grade 1, which at that age will start with teaching sequencing. Officials gave an example of having a caterpillar take two steps forward then two steps to the side using arrows. Grade 3 will see students using repeating functions, and the next year using "if this happens, then this will happen next" logic sequences, officials said.
Financial literacy will be taught across all grades for the first time, starting with learning to identify Canadian coins and bills and compare their values in Grade 1.
In higher grades, students will design budgets and compare interest rates.
Officials say there will be 465 expectations students will have to meet over the course of the curriculum, which is fewer than in the previous curriculum, having removed areas such as temperature that are covered in other subjects.
They say students will also now only get one overall mark for math instead of separate marks for each strand.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2020.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press