Aboriginal learners in Canada are low academic achievers. The majority of these learners do not complete secondary school, so therefore they do not possess necessary skills to effectively enter the job market (“Aboriginal Peoples,” 2009). Additionally, most Aboriginal youth believe that the Canadian school experience is a means of eroding “their identity and self-worth” (“Aboriginal Peoples”).
Yet, the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, has vowed to work to “[e]liminate the gap in academic achievement and graduation rates between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students” through Learn Canada 2020, a policy framework to significantly improve education for all people by the year 2020 (“Learn Canada 2020,” 2008). Because the population of Aboriginals continues to rise, and increasing numbers of Aboriginals move into urban locations, however, it is no longer considered essential to improve the Aboriginal school alone (Cherubini & Hodson, 2008).
Rather, it is believed that education for Aboriginal learners must be improved within Canadian schools to boot. Canadian provinces have developed various initiatives to accomplish this goal (“Synthesis of Aboriginal Education Cross Canada Policy Directions,” 2009). After delving into the history of Aboriginal education in Canada, this paper describes policies recommended across the country to improve Aboriginal education before arriving at the most salient issues that must be addressed for the problem to be successfully resolved.
After all, the Aboriginals may neither experience improvements in their socioeconomic reality nor contribute to the culture of the country and growth of its economy without solid education (Cherubini & Hodson). History of Aboriginal Education in Canada Aboriginal children were only introduced to formal schooling once the Europeans had arrived in Canada. The classroom of the Aboriginal child was his or her community and each adult knew that all children must be educated (Kirkness, 1999).
The Aboriginals are a highly spiritual people, so therefore teaching about the “Great Spirit” was considered most essential (Kirkness). But, when the Europeans arrived, they took Aboriginal children away from their parents into boarding schools run by missionaries. Indian children did not only have to learn Christianity in missionary schools but also perform menial chores. Moreover, these children were subjected to all forms of abuse in these schools. They were clearly looked down upon even though the Europeans had taken responsibility to educate them (Kirkness).
According to a government official from the nineteenth century, Little can be done with him (the Indian child). He can be taught to do a little farming, and at stock raising, and to dress in a more civilized manner, but that is all. The child who goes to a day school learns little while his tastes are fashioned at home, and his inherited aversion to toil is in no way combated. (Kirkness) The experiment was unsuccessful, so therefore the government of Canada opened day schools for Aboriginal children in their reserves during the 1950s.
Furthermore, it was decided at the time that Indian children should be allowed to study with the rest in the regular classroom. Because there was no effort made to look into curriculum requirements for integration, the regular classroom was where the Indian student felt alienated. Racism also continued to mar the academic experience of the Aboriginal child, which is why Aboriginal leadership addressed the government of Canada about the issue of effectively educating Indian children. During the 1960s, Indian leaders also pointed out to the government that at least fifty percent of Aboriginal males were unemployed.
What is more, the public schools of Canada used textbooks that presented false information about the Indians (Kirkness). In 1971, a policy named “Indian Control of Indian Education” was introduced (Kirkness). Kirkness describes the breakthrough thus: Indian Control of Indian Education is based on two education principles recognized in Canadian society: parental responsibility and local control. It recognizes that Indian parents must enjoy the same fundamental decision making rights about their children’s education as other parents across Canada.
It promotes the fundamental concept of local control which distinguishes the free political system of democratic governments from those of a totalitarian nature. The policy recognizes the need to improve educational opportunities for Indians. (Kirkness) Indian Education Today Despite the policy of “Indian Control of Indian Education,” Aboriginal youth continue dropping out of school at an alarming rate. Furthermore, most Indian kids still do not make the transition from secondary school to postsecondary educational institutions.
Thus, the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada has decided on the following objectives: (1) …“[T]o identify and share provincial, territorial, and federal best practices for Aboriginal students in early childhood, elementary, secondary, postsecondary, and adult education;” (2) To rely on research based information to improve the quality of education for Indians; and (3) To provide additional training to all teachers, including Aboriginal educators, so that both the regular classroom attended by the Indian child and the Indian schools are effective centers of learning for the Aboriginal child (“Aboriginal Education Action Plan”).
The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, in collaboration with Aboriginal leaders has further determined that both the federal government and the Aboriginals must continue working together to enhance the educational experience for Aboriginal youth in Canada (“Summit on Aboriginal Education”). The Aboriginals believe that the Canadian public schools still do not meet their educational needs. Moreover, most Indian parents cannot afford to send their kids to good schools (Hayes, 2009).
Thus, the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada would like to address these issues through partnerships with entities that must be willing to support initiatives not only to improve the Canadian public schools for the Indians but also to close the “education funding gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal learners” (“Summit on Aboriginal Education”). Indian schools lack quality infrastructure, and this is yet another problem to resolve (“Summit on Aboriginal Education”).
The provinces of Canada have analyzed various policy options to enhance education for Indians. Schools in Alberta, for example, would like to require at-risk Indian youth to be identified before support can be provided for them to continue schooling. Additionally, these schools desire to especially focus on preparing Indian youth for postsecondary schooling and taking up careers (“Synthesis of Aboriginal Education Cross Canada Policy Directions”).
Because Indian children remain rather attached to their families, schools of Alberta may develop “parenting centers” in the near future for Aboriginal students to remain as connected to their parents as they require in order to feel emotionally balanced and easily complete their schooling (“Synthesis of Aboriginal Education Cross Canada Policy Directions”). More importantly, these schools would like to introduce “expanded Aboriginal language and cultural programs” so as to support all students in becoming comfortable in diverse classrooms (“Synthesis of Aboriginal Education Cross Canada Policy Directions”).
British Columbia would like to focus on the issue of racism with regard to quality education for Aboriginal youth. Quebec desires to offer extra support to Indian youth in its schools. In Saskatchewan, it has been proposed that school boards should hire increasing numbers of Aboriginals so as to develop appropriate curriculums for all students. But, it is Manitoba that seems to have taken the biggest leap to improve education for Indians. According to Manitoba’s Aboriginal Education Action Plan, the Aboriginal viewpoint must be part of the curriculum in order for the Indian youth to truly integrate into the regular classroom.
Indian youth must be provided with sufficient financial support, also according to this Plan. What is more, Manitoba has introduced the Aboriginal Apprentice Program requiring employers to accept increasing numbers of Indians as apprentices (“Synthesis of Aboriginal Education Cross Canada Policy Directions”). Conclusion Although many policy recommendations have been made to improve education for Aboriginals in Canada, Manitoba has already taken action to fulfill this goal. The Winnipeg School Division in Manitoba, for example, includes the following in its policy to achieve the goal:
A wide variety of Aboriginal people and community resources will be utilized in the development and implementation of Aboriginal awareness and cultural competency programs for staff. All students, employees, and those who provide service in the Division are responsible for the development and maintenance of positive race relations within the Division. Included in this is fostering the understanding that the Aboriginal people have a valid historical and contemporary contribution to make to society. (“IGABA,” 2005) Of course, the Aboriginals remain as an important part of Canadian society.
Their population is rising and they have invaluable contributions to make alongside others. Then again, it is not possible to disregard their culture and values as they are taken into regular classrooms to acquire necessary skills in order to eventually enter the job market with success. The history of Indians in Canada reveals that their community must necessarily harbor a grudge against Canadians of European birth. After all, the Aboriginals had to face oppression at the hands of Europeans although the latter had taken responsibility to educate them.
The fact that the Indian child still feels alienated in the regular classroom shows that anti-bias curriculums must be developed at the same time as Canadian teachers are trained to provide extra support to Indian students and include information about Aboriginals in curriculums. Racism is a real problem, and all students must be taught to respect diverse races and cultures. What is more, in the case of the Indian child, it seems that the most important reason why he or she would refuse to continue schooling is that most school districts have not thus far included the kinds of policies already in place at the Winnipeg School Division.
Clearly, the Aboriginal youth would have to stop feeling like the oppressed minority in regular classrooms. All school districts should be teaching students to show respect for the minority group. The problem with Indian schools remains, however, even if all Canadian academic institutions have done all they can to enhance education for Aboriginals. Because Indian schools have been advised by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, to collaborate with the Canadian education system to improve schooling for Indian children, this may change. After all, Indian schools should also be teaching about assimilation to Aboriginal youth.
Furthermore, in order to prepare Aboriginals for the job market, Indians schools must definitely be consulting the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, to include preparation for careers in their curriculums. It is one country, after all. The Indians cannot stay behind.
Aboriginal Education Action Plan. Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. Retrieved Mar 16, 2009, from http://www. cmec. ca/Programs/aboriginaled/action-plan/Pages/default. aspx. Aboriginal Peoples. (2009). Canadian Education Association. Retrieved Mar 16, 2009, from http://www. cea-ace. ca/foo. cfm? subsection=lit&page=pol&subpage=lan&subsubpage=abo.