Ontario releases new math curriculum for elementary students

Merna Emara
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Just when schools were ready to call it a year after a rollercoaster of unexpected events – including the teachers’ strike and COVID-19 – the Ministry of Education introduced a new math curriculum for elementary students to be taught starting September 2020.

Last week, Premier Doug Ford made this announcement during his press releases at Queen’s Park. Ford said the Progressive Conservative government is proud to have worked on delivering this curriculum.

“I made a promise to parents that we would fix the broken education system we inherited, get back to basics and teach our children the math fundamentals they need for lifelong success,” Ford said. “Today, our government is delivering on that promise with the first-ever math curriculum in Canada for Grades 1 to 8 that includes the teaching of coding and financial literacy, both critical skills that will help our students prepare for and succeed in the modern world and in the modern workforce.”

Ford’s government has been working for about two years on introducing a new math curriculum, one that will enhance students’ math skills needed for “life success.” During this time, the government said, there was consultation with parents, math educators and math experts to reach the optimal solution.

The new curriculum is divided into six sections: financial literacy, numbers, algebra, data, spatial sense and socio-economic learning skills in mathematics and the mathematical processes.

According to the press release, this curriculum will build an understanding of the value and use of money through mandatory financial literacy concepts, teach computer coding skills to prepare students for future jobs and use relevant, current and practical examples from the everyday life that students can connect math to.

“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 bright future for all of us,” Ford said.

The ministry set a two-month implementation period of the new curriculum to help the teachers and the students with the transition

However, The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said in a statement the Ontario government is rushing the new math curriculum into public schools despite the learning gaps experienced by students resulting from the closures and distant learning that the pandemic created.

ETFO president, Sam Hammond, said given the significant changes to the math curriculum and that Ontario is still in the midst of a pandemic, successful implementation will require more than the two-month timeline the ministry has set.

In a joint statement, ETFO said a two-year period for implementation would provide the government and the educators the time to ensure the professional development of the new math curriculum.

“When schools reopen in the fall, educators will be focused on helping students transition back to school after months of school closures triggered by the pandemic,” the statement said. “They will be focused on helping close the learning gaps and addressing mental health needs deepened by the ongoing health crisis and supporting students and their families during these uncertain times. The government should be helping educators and students by directing additional supports and resources to these efforts, instead of creating more uncertainty and additional barriers.”

Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, said this move was necessary since the old curriculum has been in place for about 15 years.

“For over a decade, too many students were lacking everyday math, financial literacy, and numeracy skills,” Lecce said. “The new curriculum will help students solve everyday math problems, enshrine financial literacy in the early grades, and better prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow by ensuring every student learns how to code.”

On the other side of the coin, NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles was not on board this decision. According to Stiles, adding new demands at this point is setting up students for failure.

“Dropping a new math curriculum during the middle of a pandemic is completely irresponsible,” she said. “The Ford government must pause this decision, listen to parents and educators, and concentrate on better supporting students during this stressful period.”

Monica Armour, president of ETFO Rainy River District, said that while she is not opposed to the new math curriculum, there is a learning gap resulting from school closures that needs to be taken care of.

“We should be focusing on closing those gaps that happened this year because of the closure,” Armour said. “Implementation is going to take time if you are going to do it in the correct way. A successful implementation will require more than just the two-month timeline that the ministry has set.”

Last time the Ontario’s elementary math was updated was in 2005. This new curriculum is part of the government’s four-year strategy to ensure students have the confidence to excel in math. Consequently, the new report card will be updated to match the new curriculum and provide an overall math grade. There will also be a comment section to give parents an assessment of how their child is doing.

For example, the financial literacy component of the new curriculum will work on building students’ skills and knowledge about the value and use of money, how decisions impact personal finances and developing consumer and civic awareness. Here is what financial literacy will teach students in grades 1 to 8 according to the Ministry of Education’s website:

  1. Grade 1: Students learn to recognize Canadian coins and bills and compare their values.
  2. Grade 2: Students build on their understanding that money has value and identify different ways to represent the same amount of money. For example, how different combinations of coins can add up to $1, and how different combinations of loonies, toonies and bills can add up to $100.
  3. Grade 3: Students build on their understanding that money has value and identify different ways to represent the same amount of money. For example, how different combinations of coins can add up to $1, and how different combinations of loonies, toonies and bills can add up to $100.
  4. Grade 4: Students learn that there are different ways to pay for goods and services. Students also learn how consumers determine whether an item is good value for the price.
  5. Grade 5: Students learn about different ways to transfer money between people and organizations, such as e-transfers and cheques. They calculate the total cost and change required for cash transactions involving items priced in dollars and cents, using mental math and other strategies. Students learn how to determine the best value for an item – for example, five apples for $1.00 versus three apples for 75 cents. Students prepare basic budgets and learn about the concepts of credit and debt.
  6. Grade 6: The advantages and disadvantages of using different methods of payment for goods and services are explored. Students investigate different types of financial goals, identify and describe factors that could affect these goals, and outline steps to achieve them. Students explain the concept of interest rates and identify interest rates and fees offered by banks and other financial institutions. They also learn how trading, lending, borrowing and donating are different ways to distribute resources.
  7. Grade 7: Students begin to learn that international currencies have different values compared to Canadian dollars and understand how exchange rates work. They develop an awareness of how to plan for and reach financial goals. Students build their knowledge of how interest rates can affect savings and investments. They also learn about the cost of borrowing and compare interest rates and fees for different types of accounts and loans to become more informed consumers.
  8. Grade 8: Students learn to create a plan to reach financial goals and identify ways to maintain balanced budgets. Students compare different ways that consumers can get value for their money when spending, such as using sales.

“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.”