British Columbia

Surrey social justice teacher calls for more anti-racism education in B.C. schools

Annie Ohana says non-Eurocentric narratives should be more promininent in lesson plans across the province and not just in social justice classes like the one she teaches for senior high school students.

The province says it has created a community roundtable to try to do just that

Students greet each other in the hallway at L.A. Matheson Secondary during the 2019 school year. Annie Ohana, who teaches social justice at the Surrey school, wants to see more anti-racism education worked into the B.C. curriculum which she says still favours Eurocentric narratives. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Students are returning to the classroom in the midst of escalated racial tensions across North America and at least one B.C. school teacher wants to see more anti-racism education woven into the provincial curriculum.

Annie Ohana, a Social Justice 12 teacher at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, says the current B.C. curriculum is still very Eurocentric-focused and that lived experiences of Black and Indigenous peoples and people of colour should be part of more lesson plans than just hers.

"One of the most potent things any teacher can do is to mentor through identity to bring forward the pride and the respect that we should all have for different stories," said Ohana Thursday on The Early Edition. 

"It's a beautiful thing because usually what happens is that, if you understand what a safe and caring school an anti-racist school is like, you are going to want that for other people."

B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming says he's taken steps to include more history of the Black community in British Columbia's school curriculum, amid mass protests in the U.S. and around the world.

Crowds take to the streets in Vancouver to march against racism and celebrate Black culture in June 2020. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The provincial government has also created a community roundtable that, according to a news release, will support the development of an anti-racism action plan and strengthen the K-12 curriculum that ensures the "culture, beliefs and ancestry of all students and staff are accepted, celebrated and understood."

Ohana says its not just about adjusting curriculum, but also about adjusting teacher education programs to make sure teachers are equipped to provide anti-racist education. She said there are also many teachers working on projects that bring Indigenous and South Asian stories to the forefront and the province should fund these initiatives.

"It's a multiple front fight and hopefully that sets the groundwork," said Ohana.

Students are returning to the classroom in September in the midst of increased racial tensions stemming from outrage over police treatment of Black people in the United States. To combat systemic racism against Black and Indigenous people in Canada, the provincial government has said it is looking at ways to for the B.C. school curriculum to be more inclusive. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Annette Henry, a professor in UBC's faculty of education, the Social Justice Institute at the University of British Columbia and the David Lam chair in multicultural education, told CBC's On The Coast the school curriculum is one of the ways we learn who we are as human beings.

"Children can go to school and not ever see an image of themselves. Or not ever see a positive representation of themselves," said Henry.

Ohana believes teaching about systemic racism in schools could also have a positive spillover effect in the workforce later on.

"When you think about the reality of the role of police, the role of social workers, the role of our entire system, these are the things that we need to be teaching ... it's not just the idea of one bad apple," she said.

The provincial roundtable met for the first time at the end of July and will continue to meet until an action plan is developed. 

Fleming has also asked the First Nations Leadership Council, the First Nations Education Steering Committee and Métis Nation B.C. to help set up a distinct Indigenous table.

To hear the complete interview with Annie Ohana on The Early Edition, tap here.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


With files from The Early Edition