Advocates say need for more Black history in N.S. education system greater than ever
Teacher Wendie Poitras says recent anti-Black racism protests help demonstrate need for overhauling system
Some Black Nova Scotian education advocates say there's a shortage of curriculum devoted to Black history in the province and the education system needs to be overhauled to have a more Africentric perspective.
"It's not just the curriculum, it's deeper than that," said Wendie Poitras, a Black teacher at Chebucto Heights Elementary in Halifax.
Nova Scotia's curriculum includes no mandatory courses on Black Nova Scotian history, aside from being part of social studies classes in Grade Primary through junior high. In high school, there's an optional Black History class.
Poitras said in light of recent worldwide anti-Black racism protests and increased support for the Black Lives Matter movement, educating students about Black history is more important than ever.
Jennifer Burke, the director of curriculum for the Department of Education, said that since 2015 the province has been updating its curriculum to include Black Nova Scotian history in various courses from Primary to high school.
On the teaching side, Poitras said more Black teachers and staff are needed.
"You can ask really anyone in Nova Scotia when did you have the opportunity to have a Black teacher and for most people, they'll stop and think about and some say never, but most say high school," she said.
Karen Hudson, the principal at Auburn Drive High School in Cole Harbour and president of the Black Educators Association, said the responsibility of teaching Black history shouldn't fall on Black educators alone.
"We have to be able to make a change in terms of training so that teachers that are going through these programs or teacher colleges have an opportunity to dive in and explore the rich history of Nova Scotia and Blacks in Canada," she said.
Poitras said her experience has been that some educators aren't comfortable teaching Black history, whether it's because of a lack of knowledge or due to their biases around the subject matter.
Province says 'unprecedented' work taking place
Augy Jones, the Department of Education's director of African-Canadian studies, said the department is working with teachers on professional development training related to diverse viewpoints.
"Before it was breakout courses and you had to go into courses to get this information, but I think the philosophy now is, 'No, let's take some of that curriculum and embed it properly so that people get the full story,'" he said.
Jones called the work the province is undertaking "unprecedented."
"We recognize what it's been like and we are working on a multi-layered approach to changing the experience for Black students in the classroom from grades Primary through 12," he said.
"There's collaboration going on at the Department of Education and between regions that is unprecedented and that type of collaboration lets the Black voices be at the table at the creation stage."
Poitras said Nova Scotia's education model needs overhauling to become more Africentric.
"In the Africentric model, it's about representation, so as opposed to writing a test one might be able to express themselves through dance or building a model or spoken word, other ways of representing using our bodies," she said.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic reaching Nova Scotia, the Africentric Learning Institute hosted an Africentric learning model panel that looked at topics such as Africentric immersion in public schools, which would incorporate Africentric culture into every class, just as French is infused into every aspect of French immersion.
Hudson said Africentric curriculum is needed at all levels of learning.
"It's critical that our children matter and that we create information that is passed through elementary right on to high school, and even when they get into university where there's representation and materials that reflect who they are," she said.
Last year, Hudson was recognized by the Learning Partnership, a national charity, as one of Canada's 30 outstanding principals for spearheading a math program at Auburn that introduced an Africentric model.
The program follows traditional curriculum outcomes, except it focuses on the Black experience by using different learning activities and bringing in special guests. One such guest is Imhotep's Legacy Academy, a Dalhousie University community partnership that works with Black Nova Scotian students in grades 6 to 12 to support their mastery in scientific, technical, engineering and mathematic (STEM) fields.
After implementing the program, math grades improved, which encouraged Hudson to continue advocating for an Africentric model.
"In terms of our history, there's so much to learn. I just think that people should have the opportunity to delve into it and understand the information," she said.
"Our culture is so rich."
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