Comments on the Ontario grade 12 curriculum for Earth and Space Science

Tuesday, November 23, 1999

By: Alan V. Morgan

Those of you who live in Ontario and who are involved in teaching high school students will be aware that early last year the Ministry of Education announced that it was dropping the senior level Physical Geography and Geology courses from the curriculum. Many letters of concern were written to the (then) Minister of Education, David Johnston. A number of these letters were generated by communications from the Canadian Geoscience Council and as the result of letters from Robert Lord who alerted the community at large. The form letters received back from the Minister did little to satisfy the concerns of those of us in the Earth Sciences (and here I include physical geographers). Part of the letter reads....

"Thank you for your letter in which you express your concerns about the decision to remove the Grades 11 and 12 Earth and Space Science courses from the Secondary School Curriculum Policy Document for Science. Based on the feedback we received from various stakeholders, and after consultation with other jurisdictions in Canada, it was decided to incorporate Earth and Space Science as part of the compulsory Grade 9 and 10 courses. Earth and Space Science topics, including Geology, will also be included in the new Canadian and World Studies curriculum, in courses such as Grade 11 and 12 Physical Geography. These changes to the secondary curricula will ensure that now, every student will learn about geological science in high school. By integrating Geology into the compulsory core Science curriculum, more students will be exposed to the subject than if it was just another optional, stand-alone course at a senior grade level."

Of course this action was unacceptable to those of us who have been working to get the Earth Sciences recognised as a pre-university course that could be used as a stand-alone subject area for university entrance.

In October 1998, Pat Dillon (representing the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada), Greg Finn (Brock University and the official University/Ministry liaison person), Alan Morgan (representing the Canadian Geoscience Council) and Jan Veizer (representing the Geological Association of Canada), met with Ministry personnel in Toronto to express the concerns of the geoscience community.

We pointed out that in a world increasing in complexity, all students should be trained in the importance of the Earth Sciences - to understand natural resources, natural hazards, humanity's place on the planet and the complexity of interactions between the various cycles on Earth. I also commented that the Ministry was setting the new curriculum partially to direct students into potential employment areas. If the Earth Sciences was not perceived as a valid job area, how could they become part of it? By February the Ministry approached the universities to get initial feedback for the proposed curriculum. At the meeting in Waterloo, I pointed out that the Earth Sciences still had not been added. Fortunately colleagues backed me up from other areas of science by stating that they thought that there should be an Earth Science component in the new curriculum. (I suspect, but do not know) that this scenario was replayed at other institutions. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the Ministry re-evaluated its position and, after a meeting in May, decided on the concept of the Earth Sciences as a Grade 12 curriculum subject area for university-bound students. Greg Finn, Fred Michel (Carleton University) and Alan Morgan (University of Waterloo) were chosen to establish guidelines for the new curriculum and Greg Finn did a superb job in marshalling input, producing a document that was submitted (and accepted) by the Ministry in late July 1999. It is this document that forms the foundation of the new "Earth and Space Science" curriculum for Grade 12. From August to October 1999 comments and feedback on the curriculum were circulated amongst the universities and the Ministry. The "draft final" copy of the curriculum was released in late October. The Ministry decided that there was no need to have a final group meeting for the University Science validation. I am assuming that there might be some further discussions, but the preliminary draft of the Earth and Space Science curriculum now seems to be acceptable at the university level. Depending on feedback I can address some of the elements contained in this document in a later issue of WAT ON EARTH. One of these could be that we were very light on the "space" and very heavy on the "earth" component of the curriculum. Our feeling is that it is essential for students to be much more aware of planet Earth rather than studying objects at the furthest reaches of the cosmos.

The task now is to persuade all Ontario universities to accept the new "Earth and Space Science" credit in the same way that they accept Biology, Chemistry and Physics for university entrance. The second phase is then to approach all the institutions training teachers so that students graduating in Earth Sciences can finally teach the subject that they have been trained in. This cannot come soon enough. Earth Science is a subject area that has been woefully ignored for far too long. It is time that our professional colleagues in our sister sciences realise the importance of what we know and what we must impart to our students.