ATA News

Minister eyes enrolment pressures and curriculum consultation

A Q&A with Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides

Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides

Demetrios Nicolaides was sworn in under Danielle Smith’s government as minister of education on June 23, 2023. He previously served as the minister of advanced education.

Prior to his election in 2019 as the UCP MLA for Calgary-Bow, he worked at a communication consulting firm and taught courses at business schools.

Nicolaides graduated from Ernest Manning High School in 2000, earned a BA in history and international relations at the University of Calgary. He later completed an MA in conflict studies in Austria and a PhD in political science in Cyprus, focusing on education’s role in ethnic conflicts. He also has training in mediation and arbitration. 

The ATA News assembled the following questions and answers to help teachers get more acquainted with the minister.

What do you see as the big priorities and the big challenges in Alberta education over the next few years?

A Over the next few years, one of the biggest challenges will be to accommodate the surge of [population] growth. Premier Smith has asked me to significantly increase the number of schools in our growing communities and I plan to do just that. Budget 2023 also provided $820 million over the next three years to deal specifically with enrolment growth pressures.

Another significant challenge will be to adequately equip our schools to manage increasingly complex classrooms. Budget 2023 provided $126 million in new funding over three years to hire more EAs, psychologists, speech language pathologists and other staff to support varied learning needs. We are also reviewing PUF funding and providing more funding for early screening to help ensure students receive the supports they need.

Another priority will be to continue with the development of Alberta’s new curriculum. As a former political scientist, I am eager to get to work on developing a new social studies curriculum and, similarly, also excited to strengthen English language arts and math, to ensure our students continue to excel in literacy and numeracy. I’m also excited to continue work on physical education and wellness to help equip our students with important life skills, build financial literacy and help them learn important habits about nutrition, exercise and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. 

Q What do you think is working well in the public education system and where do you see room for improvements?

A There are so many aspects of our education system that are working well. I have been so impressed with the dedication of our teachers, the passion of superintendents and the breadth of programming options available to students. I recently hosted a delegation of ministers of education from Germany who came to Alberta to learn about our success in PISA rankings, and I viewed their interest as a very objective vote of confidence in our education system. 

I think one of the areas where there is room for improvement is in career education. I would like to see us do more to expose our kids to the various career opportunities that exist, whether in aviation, health care, tech, trades, robotics and others. Students should have a strong understanding of what occupations are in demand to help them make informed decisions about their high school electives, dual credit opportunities and future post-secondary studies. I also believe we need to create more opportunities for students to gain more work experience so that they can learn the important workplace and interpersonal skills they will need later in life. 

Q Class size and supports for inclusion are among the top concerns for teachers. How do you plan to address these issues?

A Yes, there is no question there are growing concerns, especially as we are dealing with a large increase in population. We are committed to providing more funding to try to address these concerns. In Budget 2023, we increased funding by 5.2 per cent, for a total investment of $8.8 billion this year, including more than $820 million over three years specifically to address enrolment growth. In addition, the government provides supplemental enrolment growth to support school authorities with significant enrolment growth.

Moving forward, the provincial government’s budget cycle continues, and we are beginning our work for Budget 2024. I want to hear from our education partners on what their priorities are and what challenges they are facing. We share a common goal in wanting to provide the highest-quality education for students, and together I think we can achieve that. 

Q Is there anything else you would like to share with teachers and other readers of the ATA News?

A I would just like to say thank you. I greatly appreciate the hard work, passion and dedication our teachers have. The work that you do helps equip our students with the skills, knowledge and competencies they will need to succeed as adults. As teachers, you do more than just teach the curriculum. You strive to build inquisitive minds, teach our students to think critically and empower them to become powerful adults. The work that you do reminds me of the words of Socrates who declared, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”

I’m excited to continue to build a strong working relationship with teachers and the ATA.

I am fully committed to listening to and working with our education partners to identify solutions to current challenges. I’m excited to continue to build a strong working relationship with teachers and the ATA. As an example, as we work to develop a new social studies curriculum, I have directed my team to develop a new teacher curriculum consultation group. This group will provide an opportunity for teachers to give their feedback on the K–12 social studies scope and sequence and draft K–6 content. 

In early 2024, all teachers, along with interested parents and Albertans, will have a chance to give feedback on key learnings within the K–12 social studies curriculum and view the draft K–6 social studies curriculum. Teachers will again be given an opportunity to provide further feedback during the 2024/25 school year by piloting the draft K–6 social studies curriculum. I look forward to updating you all as the curriculum engagement process continues. ❚

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.