On Campus

Quebec tops in teaching Canadian history

P.E.I. and Newfoundland the worst, says Dominion Institute

Looking for a correct answer to a Canadian history question? It all depends where you ask.

Prince Edward Island, the birthplace of Confederation?

Ontario, Parliament Hill’s home province?

Guess again.

A new national study that ranks Canadian history curricula in high schools ranked Quebec at the head of the class.

The Dominion Institute, a non-partisan foundation dedicated to promoting Canada’s history, examined what exactly provinces and territories are teaching high-school kids about the country’s past.

The organization will reveal a report card Monday filled with what it calls “worrying” grades about the country’s education departments.

Quebec earned a B+ for its Canadian history curriculum, while P.E.I., Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Northwest Territories each took home an F.

“It’s quite obvious that too many provinces in Canada don’t take the teaching of Canadian history seriously, and for that reason, too many students in Canada graduate with very little knowledge about our country’s past,” Dominion Institute executive director Marc Chalifoux said of the report provided exclusively to The Canadian Press.

Only Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia require students to pass at least one Canadian history class to earn a high-school diploma.

The other provinces and territories have mandatory social-science courses, but they typically contain only a touch of national history, the study says.

The institute reviewed courses that include Canadian history (grades 9 to 12) and evaluated each one on content, curriculum requirements and students’ skill development. Points were also given for optional courses that are available.

Each province and territory was then given percentage and letter grades.

After Quebec, British Columbia (B) placed second, followed by Yukon (B), Ontario (B), Manitoba (B-), Nova Scotia (C+), New Brunswick (C-) and Nunavut (D).

Among its seven recommendations, the Dominion Institute said all Canadian students should be expected to have a core knowledge of 10 events and themes, including both World Wars and aboriginal history. It also called for the creation of a cross-country national history exam.

“It seems really worrying to me that a large number of students can graduate high school in P.E.I., in Alberta, in Newfoundland, without learning about the key events and the key people who shaped our country,” Chalifoux said.

“That to me is a great failing of the education system in many provinces in Canada.”

Quebec, home to deep nationalist roots and a sizable sovereigntist population, earned the highest score primarily because it’s the only region that requires students to take two years of Canadian history.

Chalifoux praised Quebec’s recently revamped history courses for grades 9 and 10, which he described as more “pan-Canadian” than in most provinces.

“I think the (provincial and territorial ranking) order is surprising and I think it will surprise a lot of people,” he said.

But Quebec’s strength in history education is no surprise to Desmond Morton, McGill University history professor and author.

Morton also disagreed that the province’s new course features a significant amount of Canadian content.

“Quebec having the most nationalistic ideology in the country has used history like every other nationalist ideologues to make conversions among the young,” Morton, co-founder of McGill’s Institute for the Study of Canada, said in an interview.

He did agree, however, that changes in Canada are necessary, noting the problems lie with officials who run school boards and education departments.

“These people are told to have a childish understanding (of history) because the politicians who do control them are terrified of getting into a snotty mess in their constituencies,” he said.

The Council of Ministers of Education said only science courses have a common framework across Canada (except in Quebec).

“Each province and territory has a different approach as to the inclusion of Canadian history in their curriculum,” said council spokeswoman Tamara Davis.

The education department in P.E.I., which tied for last place with Newfoundland and Labrador in the study’s rankings, said the province recently created an “innovative” Grade 6 social-studies class focusing on Island history.

Jean Doherty, a department spokeswoman, said the new course encourages students to do their own research rather than just memorizing dates and facts.

“Whether their (Dominion Institute) criteria was the amount of content in terms of Canadian history – that’s probably not a marker to judge the quality of your history curriculum,” she said, adding the province uses the terms “social studies” and “history” interchangeably.

Doherty wouldn’t comment on the report until after she has seen it.

The Dominion Institute launched the study after the results of its own recent surveys suggested that Canadians know little about their past.

For example, a national poll of 1,000 adults by the foundation taken in November found that two in five Canadians could not identify Sir John A. Macdonald as the country’s first prime minister.

The Dominion Institute will post the full report Monday on its website (www.dominion.ca) as well as an online petition that calls for improvements to Canadian-history curricula.

– The Canadian Press

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