Curricula used to teach classes such as family studies and foods and nutrition in Manitoba schools has remained unchanged since the late 1980s
Manitoba home economists are applauding a provincial plan to give the home economics curriculum a long-overdue update.
The current one is 25 years old, said Alison Delf-Timmerman, a board member of the Manitoba Association of Home Economists, which has been asking the province to freshen up the curriculum.
“It definitely needs updating,” she said.“We’re very pleased to have been heard by the Department of Education and look forward to being actively involved with the revision.”
Much has changed over the past three decades, she said.
Increasingly, home economics teachers see ‘deskilled’ students who don’t even know the basics in food preparation, said Delf-Timmerman, a home economics teacher in Treherne, who teaches Grade 9 to 12 students about foods and nutrition, clothing, housing, design and family studies.
The Internet wasn’t around 25 years ago, but students are now highly influenced by whatever they see on it, she said.
“They’re totally reliant on it, and they don’t have the skills to be critical of it,” she said.
Teachers also see students struggling to make sense of issues that weren’t around a quarter-century ago, from online relationships to the sophisticated marketing of food and drink makers.
“They don’t know why we’re concerned that they’re gulping all these energy drinks,” said Delf-Timmerman.
Experienced home economics teachers have been tweaking their lessons, but other teachers are more reliant on the outdated curriculum, she said.
“If that’s not their background, they may not be receiving professional development in current information, and therefore relying on those documents and not adjusting or adapting them to reflect what’s current,” Delf-Timmerman said.
An updated curricula could help students think more critically about food and nutrition, said Joyce Slater, a University of Manitoba human nutritional sciences professor who has studied the state of home economics education in Manitoba.
Teachers told her that the curriculum not only needs to reflect more current nutritional knowledge, but be appropriate to the increasingly diverse student population, she said.
It’s a different world compared to the late 1980s, particularly in the kitchen and grocery store, said Slater. Some students have never turned on a stove or cracked an egg, and food is an increasingly controversial subject. Youth are also overweight and have unhealthy diets, usually because they favour high-caloric, but nutritionally inferior foods.
A revamped home economics foods and nutrition curriculum could play an important role in tackling those problems, said Slater.
“It could equip them, not just around cooking and food preparation, but to interact with a complex food system that is much more complicated than it was 25 or 30 years ago,” she said.
Slater’s study also raised the question of whether home economics classes in foods and nutrition should be mandatory. Teachers told her their program has actually been losing ground since physical education became a mandatory subject several years ago, and was revamped to include a nutritional health component.
Currently, less than half of all Manitoba youth in middle and senior years take home economics, and school divisions don’t have to offer the program. By senior high, just seven per cent are enrolled because at that level it’s just one of many optional classes.
In Ontario, the Ontario Home Economists Association tried to make food education mandatory for all grade levels. The effort was unsuccessful, largely because of concerns that course loads are already too high, but the association plans to keep pressing the issue, a spokesperson said.