Native education focus of Ottawa summit
$400K media campaign to draw students towards college
A $400,000 multimedia campaign and a two-day conference in Ottawa to address barriers for aboriginal students are underway to push more Ontario native people to pursue higher learning.
"Racist" attitudes from teachers and curriculums lacking native cultural components were among key reasons blamed for preventing aboriginal students from being motivated, according to some educators at the seminar.
Margaret Boyle, who started teaching a native studies course at Rideau High School, attended the conference along with some 200 delegates, mostly Ottawa teachers.
"I get asked why I’m taking [native] students to an open house at a university … because 19 of them want to go," Boyle said. "One of my colleagues says they’re not going to go to university. That communicates to me — and to them — that they don’t think they have a future, but they do. There’s racism there. It still exists."
Making students feel welcome
Boyle’s native studies course is now offered by a dozen other teachers across the Ottawa District School Board. She’s also pleased that her school will begin offering a Grade 11 English class next year that will focus exclusively on work by aboriginal authors.
Still, educators have argued that more has to be done to include aboriginal history and culture in Ottawa public schools to make those students feel welcome.
'Aboriginal kids see themselves in the curriculum and the other children come to have a better appreciation of what the aboriginal experience is.'—Barrie Hammond, Director of the Ottawa District School Board
Garnette Trudeau, in Grade 12 at Wilfrid Laurier High School, recently left her Ojibwe reserve near Sudbury to move to the capital. She wants to see high schools offer aboriginal-language credits. Although her school has a native studies program, she isn’t taking those courses because she became frustrated with having to defend her culture in history class.
"When it came to residential schools, they were making jokes," she said. "They weren’t very sensitive about it, like how you would be about the Holocaust. Not many aboriginal people died, but the culture did."
12% of province's aboriginal students go to college
Barrie Hammond, the director of education at the Ottawa District School Board, would like more aboriginal educators to work with the board to also serve as role models. He added that more projects in the earlier grades should also reflect aboriginal themes.
"They reflect, on occasion, an aboriginal component. So aboriginal kids see themselves in the curriculum and the other children come to have a better appreciation of what the aboriginal experience is," he said.
In the mean time, Colleges Ontario, a group representing Ontario’s 24 colleges, is hoping that a $400,000 print, radio and poster campaign launched Tuesday will help boost the number of aboriginal students in the province who go on to higher education.
Currently, only 12 per cent of Ontario’s aboriginal students proceed to college, while only 2.8 per cent attend university, according to Colleges Ontario President Linda Franklin.
One difficulty is convincing some young aboriginals to leave their close-knit communities, Franklin said.
With files from The Canadian Press