The province of Alberta has recently released a development plan for public schools that enlists Suncor Energy and Syncrude Canada in the creation of future Kindergarten to grade three curriculum. Oil giant Cenovus will partner in developing curriculum for grades four to 12.
The oil and gas industry's involvement in the province's educational development is creating concern among opposition parties and environmental organizations.
NDP Education Critic Deron Bilous called granting partnership status to industry "appalling."
"Kindergarten to grade three is a very formative time in a child's education where their minds are still developing. It is outrageous and appalling to have oil and gas companies involved in any way in developing curriculum for Alberta's youngest students," he said.
Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Mike Hudema said "it's definitely very disturbing that the Alberta government would see oil giants Syncrude and Suncor as key partners in designing Alberta's K to three curriculum. Big oil doesn't belong in Alberta's schools.
He added, "It's time that the Alberta government realizes that what's good for the oil industry isn't what's good for the rest of Alberta and especially not our children. While oil may run our cars for now it shouldn't run our government or our schools. Ever."
Canada's oil and gas industry has taken a notable interest in curriculum design and the general project of 'energy literacy' in recent years.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the country's largest oil and gas lobby body, caused uproar last year when it partnered with the Royal Canadian Geographic Society in the creation of 'Energy IQ,' described as "an energy education resource for all Canadians...to engage Canadian teachers and students through curriculum-linked in-class learning tools, and to increase energy knowledge among the general public and community leaders."
Cameron Fenton, national director for the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, wrote the partnership was "dangerous" and granted CAPP access to not only young and impressionable minds, but to the credibility of a trusted educational institution like the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.
"What's potentially more concerning is the role that Canadian Geographic is playing. As a respected educational resource and publisher, their reputation is providing political cover for CAPP to present a dangerous and disturbing narrative and vision of the future of energy and climate change in Canada. Were CAPP to be taking this project forward on their own they would be the subject of great scrutiny by teachers, students and the public, something they probably hoped to avoid by using Canadian Geographic to take their industry spin into classrooms from grade 3 on up."
Fenton suggests Canadians should keep in mind CAPP's "dubious distinction of being Canada's most vocal proponent of tar sands, fracking and other fossil fuel development." He adds the industry lobby group is the largest in the country and has been a key player in Canada's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, eliminating environmental laws, and undermining climate legislation. They are also a big spender when it comes to oilsands advertising.
Energy IQ only tells a portion of Canada's energy story, says Fenton, and ignores crucial parts of the conversation, like the calls from reputable energy and insurance agencies to leave 80 per cent of fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
The industry-sponsored curriculum caught its own wave of backlash from students in Vancouver who gathered more than 600 hundred signatures in protest of the materials.
"Propaganda has no place in our schools," their open letter to Canadian Geographic read. "The content of your program appears to be highly focused on the oil and gas industry, yet it is presented as something that deals with all possible types of energy."
They continued, "we demand that our education system continues to maintain a progressive perspective when discussing energy-related issues. As such, we, the undersigned, ask that the Energy IQ Program is not used at our school."
CAPP has led Energy in Action programs in Alberta since 2004 to teach children about the petroleum industry and its role in environmental stewardship. In 2011 Alberta awarded CAPP the Friends of Education Award for the program. More than 59 oil and gas companies have participated in the outreach program which has run through more than 80 schools across Canada.
- Carol Linnitt, DeSmog Canada