Teacher training on indigenous issues should be mandatory, group says | Toronto Star
Ontario should require student teachers to learn about indigenous peoples, so they’re equipped to give a new generation of students the understanding to foster reconciliation, says a report to be released Monday by advocacy group People for Education.
If teacher training about First Nations remains hit-and-miss, schools will struggle to bring about the deep awareness called for by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), warned People for Education executive director Annie Kidder.
“Many teachers say they don’t need to know about indigenous issues because they won’t be teaching in areas where there are many First Nations students, but the TRC has called for a change to everyone’s education — that’s how we’ll get true reconciliation,” said Kidder.
Under Ontario’s new two-year teacher education program, which began last fall, faculties of education are urged to make sure prospective teachers recognize they have a responsibility to teach all students — aboriginal or not — about aboriginal people’s histories, cultures and perspectives.
Thunder Bay’s Lakehead University already makes that mandatory for student teachers, and doubled the length of its Aboriginal Education course this year to a full 36-hour semester. Starting in September, all undergraduate programs will feature a minimum of 18 hours of Indigenous content, and faculties and programs will have the freedom to decide how that material will be taught.
“We’re in the north, with a high aboriginal population, so our commitment to indigenous people and education is one of our mandates,” said Professor Teresa Socha, chair of undergraduate studies in education.
Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., has introduced a mandatory course on “Indigenous and Sustainability Education” as part of the new two-year teacher education program, and now requires undergraduates in the pre-teacher education stream to take a course from Trent’s Indigenous Studies department.
“Many teachers say they feel inadequate to do these topics justice in the classroom — or they’re so afraid they’ll teach it wrong, they freeze and don’t really do anything, which is not what we hope for,” said Nicole Bell, Trent’s Anishnaabe scholar and the faculty of education’s senior indigenous education adviser.
Yet Professor Susan Dion of York University, who also is aboriginal, is against making indigenous studies mandatory for student teachers, “partly because I believe all professors should be integrating it into all courses, and not isolating it in one course that lets the rest of the faculty ‘off the hook.’
“If we want teachers to integrate indigenous education across the curriculum, we should model it for them,” said Dion.
“I’d rather see the province pressure faculties of education to hire more indigenous faculty members who will create courses that students want to take.”
The report also calls for better tracking of aboriginal student achievement across the province, more outreach to community groups to strengthen teachers’ understanding and the appointment of an assistant deputy minister for indigenous education.
While it praises Ontario for its efforts over the past nine years to tackle the achievement gap of some 20 per cent between indigenous students and their non-native peers — praising a rise in aboriginal-focussed courses and professional development for teachers — the report laments that Ontario has failed to meet its goal of erasing that achievement gap by 2016.
of Ontario aboriginal students attend provincially run schools
of elementary schools provided PD (professional development) in indigenous issues for staff in 2015, up from 25% in 2014
of high schools provided PD in indigenous issues to staff in 2015, up from 34% in 2014
of elementary schools hosted indigenous guest speakers in 2015, up from 23% in 2014
of high schools hosted indigenous guest speakers in 2015, up from 39% in 2014
of elementary schools consulted with indigenous community members in 2015, up from 12% in 2014
of high schools consulted with indigenous community members in 2015, up from 27% in 2014
By the numbers:
- 82: Percentage of Ontario aboriginal students who attend provincially run schools.
- 31: Percentage of elementary schools that provided PD (professional development) in indigenous issues for staff in 2015, up from 25 per cent in 2014.
- 53: Percentage of high schools that provide PD in indigenous issues for staff in 2015, up from 34 per cent in 2014.
- 29: Percentage of elementary schools that hosted indigenous guest speakers in 2015, up from 23 per cent in 2014.
- 49: Percentage of high schools that hosted indigenous guest speakers in 2015, up from 39 per cent in 2014.
- 13: Percentage of elementary schools that consulted with indigenous community members in 2015, up from 12 per cent in 2014.
- 38: Percentage of high schools that consulted with indigenous community members in 2015, up from 27 per cent in 2014.
Source: People for Education Annual Report 2015-2016