Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. advocates say anti-racism education review needs representation, expertise

Newfoundland and Labrador advocates and academics want the province to ensure experts in immigration and anti-racism are core to its review of curriculum and teaching material.

MUN professor says junior high assignment about immigration shows lack of expert consultation

Memorial University economics professor Tony Fang says the assignment was not only offensive but showed a clear lack of expert consultation. (Memorial University)

Newfoundland and Labrador advocates and academics want the the provincial government to ensure experts in immigration and anti-racism are at the core of its review of curriculum and teaching material.

The review comes after a CBC News story about a junior high assignment that asked students to choose from the textbook's list of reasons why immigrants should or shouldn't be allowed into Canada. 

Education Minister Tom Osborne told CBC News the assignment would be removed from the curriculum, and the province would be reviewing other teaching material.

In a recent interview, Memorial University economics professor Tony Fang said the assignment was not only offensive but showed a clear lack of expert consultation.

"The teaching material … contains a lot of information that is misleading, offensive or not backed up with the data," Fang said.

He noted that the statements in the textbook opposed to immigration, such as the ideas that immigrants take jobs from resident Canadians or disproportionately draw on social welfare programs and services, are easily disproven.

Fang said he's reviewed the textbook in question, and noted its content is contrary to the province's own commitment to multiculturalism and immigration.

"On one hand you're promoting … equity and diversity, inclusivity. On the other hand, you're teaching our kids with all these outdated statements and that's kind of contradictory to your strategy."

In a statement provided to CBC News, a Department of Education spokesperson said the curriculum review currently underway is a multi-year process involving consultation with both experts and teachers involved in teaching the course.

Time for a refresh: ANC

MUN sociology professor James Baker is the senior manager of programs for the Association for New Canadians, which provides assistance to newcomers in Newfoundland and Labrador, and also does diversity training for schools and businesses.

Baker said the organization did more than 30 sessions last year involving more than 1,100 students. He said the workshops in schools focus on acceptance, diversity, multiculturalism and anti-racism.

"By promoting those values in our society and particularly to our younger generation, then those ideas become part of the norm," he said. "Hopefully, it has a positive effect on society overall."

Baker said the ANC recently met with the ministerial committee on anti-racism, and one of the organization's recommendations was for the government to approach the work of all departments through an anti-racism lens.

He said the junior high assignment is a signal that it's time to do the same for education.

"I would hope that the school district and the Department of Education will begin a refresh on their curriculum, not just in social studies, but also across, you know, all their programming," he said. "You know, math, science and so on and so forth."

The department said a multicultural education advisory committee created in 2019 will guide the development of a multicultural education framework, as well as the review of the province's curriculum.

"This document is a conceptual framework, outlining the commitment of the department to anti-racism and multicultural education in Newfoundland and Labrador," its statement reads. 

"It articulates a plan to create and maintain learning environments that are responsive to the social, cultural and linguistic diversity within the Newfoundland and Labrador education system."

The department said the framework will cover curriculum, administration, teaching, school environments and more.

Experts needed for anti-racism reform: MUN profs

Fang, who researches immigration and sits on the World Bank's expert advisory committee on migration, would like to see wider consultations and expert input into future iterations of the textbook and education policy in the province.

"We need to consult the general public and also the experts and practitioners, advocates … but also the immigrants themselves," he said. "Refugees, immigrants tell about their experiences and their … challenges and difficulties … and also their contributions to our economy, culture and society."

Sobia Shaikh, co-chair of the Anti-Racism Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador, would like to see the province take an 'all hands on deck' approach to anti-racism education. (CBC)

Sobia Shaikh is a MUN social work professor and the co-chair of the Anti-Racism Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador, one of the organizations behind a petition calling for anti-racism education reform in the province.

"The intent of an anti-racism curriculum review, as we see it, is a commitment to equality, to equity, and it needs to be central to the whole curriculum," she said. 

Among other recommendations, Shaikh said the petition is asking for a committee of individuals from immigrant, refugee, Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities with anti-racism training to be a central part of the curriculum review.

The department said an anti-racism teacher working group which includes members with "culturally diverse backgrounds" will begin work this winter to "develop and identify actions, resources and professional learning opportunities for the incorporation of anti-racist education into curriculum."

The department has also started professional development sessions with education program specialists on incorporating anti-racist material, government said Friday.

Shaikh said she wants to see the government more actively approach anti-racism within the province's schools, and consult with community organizations like ARC-NL and the ANC.

"This is like basically an 'all hands on deck' kind of initiative, and the department needs to take that leadership."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Meg Roberts