Canada’s federal education minister has promised to include Indigenous perspectives in the upcoming review of school curriculum and to add Indigenous content.
Melissa Mungall, Canada’s minister of education, made the remarks Monday in Quebec City. She was the guest speaker at the Canadian Education Association’s symposium on the Universal Competitiveness of Learning in Canada.
The move comes as the Conservative government in Ottawa is under pressure to improve education outcomes among Indigenous Peoples.
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Since 2000, the number of Indigenous children leaving school has doubled and there is now a dramatic drop in the number of Indigenous graduates entering post-secondary institutions.
Since taking office, the Conservative party has repeatedly promised to achieve reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. This followed their proposal to begin consultations with First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities on the curricula.
Almost one in four teenagers, one in five Indigenous children and Indigenous youth aged 15 to 19 have dropped out of school, while the life expectancy for Indigenous people is up to 14 years shorter than for non-indigenous Canadians.
Terence Shingler, national chairperson of the Canadian Teachers Federation, said that the review has the potential to help Indigenous communities gain a better understanding of education trends.
“We know from research done around the world that when there is high aspirations, students do better in school,” he said. “And we’re at a time when more and more students are failing in school – and if we look at school failure, we can see we’re losing the future of students who should be leaving high school prepared for the world.”
Education associations in Quebec and in Ontario have been fighting for an overhaul of Quebec’s English-language curriculum, saying it is not changing fast enough with the changing society.
An assessment made public last week revealed that while English studies had “impressive” results in terms of course content, outcomes for English learners were “unacceptable”, according to Mathieu Drouin, spokesperson for the Bureau des groups et des jeunes de l’éducation du Québec.
Drouin, who is also the treasurer of the French-speaking, transnational national Confederation of French and French-speaking Canadians, cited reports suggesting that English learners, who represent about 15% of those studied, have lower test scores and face barriers to employment and literacy.
The changes need to happen across the country, to ensure that educational outcomes are more successful Maureen O’Rourke, Catholic education association president
The government’s representative in Quebec said the government was committed to making changes to the course content and would work with educators to better ensure that students receive both the skills they need to succeed in school and the languages they need to flourish.
“We can assure you that we will take into account the needs of the French and the English student,” said Jessica Gottstein, the minister of francophone affairs.
About 70% of federally regulated employers in Canada do not have a written language requirement for job seekers, according to statistics compiled by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Maureen O’Rourke, president of the Catholic Education Association of Quebec, said students from English-speaking communities were losing ground and schools in Quebec City had to become creative in order to stop a fall in the English language.
The first student from an indigenous background graduated from Quebec’s universities last year.
“I am 100% sure our voices are being heard,” O’Rourke said. “The changes need to happen across the country, to ensure that educational outcomes are more successful.”
As part of the announcement on Monday, Mungall announced that her office would be releasing its Indigenous Needs Assessment on Canada’s Learning Systems Report Card.
Mungall said that results would help inform policy making decisions and would include teacher training and support for Indigenous community members to improve their English proficiency.
• This article was amended on 2 August 2016 to clarify a gender role of Maureen O’Rourke.