The Ford government’s new elementary math curriculum will introduce coding, computer storage measurements and personal finance terms starting in Grade 1, as part of a bid to improve sliding EQAO math scores.

Starting this September, students in Ontario public schools will begin learning mathematics with more emphasis on a “back to basics” approach, with certain concepts introduced in earlier grades and other concepts pushed into higher ones.

Throughout grades one to eight, children will learn concepts related to coding for the first time.

They will also learn about personal finance in each grade, and they will learn about measurements of data storage, such as a byte, kilobyte, megabyte and gigabyte, alongside the other units of measurement they learned previously.

Ministry of Education officials said teachers will be given professional development time through the summer as well as during the new school year to adapt lesson plans to the changes.

“This is the first new elementary school math curriculum in 15 years – it’s clear that has a lot has changed since 2005, and our math schooling needs to change with it,” Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday.

Ontario’s official opposition said changing the curriculum during a pandemic is “irresponsible.”

“Dropping a new math curriculum during the middle of a pandemic is completely irresponsible,” NDP education critic Marit Stiles said Tuesday. “Not only has the Minister of Education failed to properly consult educators and parents about the new curriculum, he has not bothered to consider the additional burden this will cause for teachers, and for parents who are already struggling to help their children learn from home.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Tuesday that now was as good a time as any to change the curriculum as declining test scores demanded a change be made.

“I appreciate the broader challenge around us but we must move forward with these necessary reforms for students so that when they graduate they can aspire to get a good paying a job, a job related to the future economy, a job that could give them a yield to own a home one day,” he said.

The new curriculum also changes when children will be introduced to some core skills.

For instance, learning to tell time on a round clock with hands will now begin in Grade 3, instead of Grade 1.

Meanwhile, plotting coordinates on a grid will be taught in Grade 4, down from Grade 6, with officials saying the skill is useful to have when learning about coding.

Part of the “return to basics” approach means memorizing multiplication tables will return.

“Yes parents, memorizing multiplication tables is back for our kids,” Lecce said.

Provincial EQAO math scores have been lagging behind reading and writing scores in the elementary grades for years.

In Grade 3, average scores were down to 61 per cent in 2018, from 67 per cent four years earlier.

In Grade 6, the average math score has been stuck at 61 per cent for a decade.

As a part of the rollout of the new curriculum, Lecce said EQAO math tests for grades 3 and 6 would be postponed for the 2020-2021 school year.

He added that in future years the annual tests could be conducted online.

The union representing public English language teachers in elementary schools said Tuesday that it had asked the province to roll out the new curriculum over two schools years and was disappointed they were moving to roll it out in one year instead.