Anti-racism advocates call for educational reform after concerning immigration assignment

Advocacy groups are calling on a number of organizations, including the provincial Education Department and school districts, to undertake anti-racism education reform.

Education minister says he's looking forward to discussing with advocates

The textbook, published in 2011 by Nelson Education, was created specifically for Newfoundland and Labrador's social studies curriculum. (Name withheld)

Advocacy groups in Newfoundland and Labrador are calling on a number of organizations, including the provincial Department of Education and school districts, to undertake anti-racism educational reform.

The recommendations from the groups come a week after CBC News reported on a junior high school assignment that asked students to write down why immigrants and refugees should or shouldn't be allowed into Canada, using the textbook. 

University professors called the assignment racist and were concerned with the textbook's suggestions for opposing migration: newcomers "may take jobs away from resident Canadians" and "some immigrants draw on social welfare programs and services," according to the textbook.

We shouldn't have been the one that wrote this.- Sobia Shaikh

The Anti-Racism Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador has started a petition with a number of recommendations to improve the kindergarten to Grade 12 social studies curriculum, with support from Black Lives Matter Newfoundland and Labrador, the Indigenous Activist Collective and the Social Justice Co-Op. 

"We have serious concerns about the adequacy of the K-12 social studies curriculum in general and its treatment of the lived experiences of students who are from immigrant, refugee, Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities in N.L.," said Raven Khadeja, co-founder of Black Lives Matter N.L. 

Some of the group's recommendations — for the Education Department of education, the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District and the Conseil scolaire francophone provincial de Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador — include immediately removing the textbook from the curriculum and issuing a statement to past and present students outlining the inadequacies of the textbook and the commitments to anti-racist education. 

This is part of the assignment some are calling racist. Students were asked to use these suggestions to debate why immigrants and refugees should or should not be allowed into Canada. (Name withheld)

Other recommendations include hiring a committee of experienced racialized consultants to do a full review of the K-12 social studies curriculum, develop an anti-racist curriculum framework that guides all curriculum decisions, and rewrite course material.

It also recommends providing funding for professional development and training for current teachers from Indigenous, migrant and other diverse communities who are interested in furthering their anti-racism education.

The group also wants to establish a paid anti-racism advisory board to monitor changes in the curriculum and field complaints about racism and educational material.

Recommendations for the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association include increasing teachers' knowledge about structural racism, other forms of oppression and the immigration system, as well as improving educators racial literacy, taught by those with anti-racism education expertise.

"We shouldn't have been the one that wrote this," said Sobia Shaikh. "This particular list came out of frustration by community organizations to say, 'Hey, look, you are not even at the beginning stages.'"

Education Department responds 

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development said it has received the list of recommendations and has requested a meeting with the Anti-Racism Coalition. 

"I am certainly looking forward to having those discussions with those groups," said Education Minister Tom Osborne.  "The input from the coalition groups or a committee that is formed to help government review curriculum will be important."

Education Minister Tom Osborne says he looks forward to discussing the recommendations. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

Osborne said the department is reviewing the curriculum, although he said it is an "onerous" task as there are hundreds of pieces of curriculum in the kindergarten to grade 12 system. 

He said changes to the curriculum with community partners has already begun as the department has been working with the Indigenous groups in the province to add four pieces of Indigenous material to the curriculum. 

"We are acting, we are responding with the view of the future and ensuring that our classrooms are welcoming," said Osborne. 

However, advocates say the curriculum is not being changed quickly enough, and it's hurting the success of some of the province's children. 

Advocates said what is taught in school is important because it can shape the perception and feelings toward certain individuals for the remainder of a person's life.

"The harm is done," said Maria Dussan, the chair for the Anti-Racism Coalition's Healthcare for all Campaign.

"There is an accountability that is owed to them.… That accountability in the form of very real commitments to the processes that take time is something that we need now."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador