Aboriginal teacher education

Ontarioís fast-growing Aboriginal population needs more teachers who either come from the community or who have specific qualifications for teaching Aboriginal students. The College is looking at how we can do our part to meet this challenge.

by Brian McGowan

Statistics Canada just released figures from the 2006 Canadian census indicating that, during the past decade, the Aboriginal community – First Nations, Métis and Inuit – has grown by 68 per cent in Ontario.

Statistics Canada figures also reveal a significant gap between the educational achievements of Aboriginal versus non-Aboriginal Ontarians.

There is a growing consensus among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community leaders and educators that more qualified Aboriginal teachers and more teachers with better preparation for working with Aboriginal students are needed.

That understanding has led to an alignment of initiatives by many stakeholders wanting to do their part to reduce the gap in achievement.

The Ministry of Education has responded by establishing the Aboriginal Education Office and developing an Aboriginal education policy framework aimed at improving student success levels.

Faculties of education have responded by developing teacher education programs specifically focused on teaching Aboriginal students. The College has recently accredited a four-year bachelor of education program in Aboriginal teacher education that Brock University is offering, and a second Ontario faculty is developing a similar program.

School boards and schools are responding on a number of fronts to create supports for Aboriginal students and greater opportunities for teaching staff to develop their knowledge and skills to enhance the learning of Aboriginal students.

The College also has an important role to play in addressing these issues.

In November, I and other College staff members attended the Circle of Light: A First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education Conference hosted by the Ministry of Education and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.

The participation of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal educators and students from across the province heightened the sense of common goals and the will to address the needs of Aboriginal students.

During the College’s two-year review of teachers’ qualifications, Aboriginal organizations urged the teacher education system to do more. The review’s recommendations, which Council approved and forwarded to the Ministry of Education, reflect the input and advice given to the College by these organizations.

Working with the Ministry of Education, the College has revised regulatory schedules of Additional Basic Qualifications and Additional Qualifications (AQs) to create a number of new AQs. These include Aboriginal Peoples: Understanding Traditional Teachings, Histories, Current Issues and Cultures; separate courses for teaching Cayuga, Delaware, Ojicree and Oneida; and courses in native studies and native languages.

We are working with the Chiefs of Ontario Education Coordination Unit and other individuals and organizations to develop guidelines for these courses, which will be available by September of this year. At a two-day institute here at the College in early January, 14 teachers from Aboriginal communities across the province shared stories that reflected their culture and their experiences as Aboriginal educators, and provided invaluable input to the process of revising and developing new AQ guidelines.

The College has identified a number of other strategies that will support initiatives being undertaken by Aboriginal organizations and other education stakeholders.

We’ll be asking for input from Aboriginal teachers on what they need to build on their teaching skills and experiences, and whether or not other modes of delivering teacher education would further reduce barriers to certification.

We have already stepped up our outreach activities to encourage Aboriginal students to consider a career in teaching, and we will continue to build on those efforts.

The time is right for significant progress to be made in this area. We have strong policy direction and resource allocation from the provincial government and the Ministry of Education. Through the Aboriginal Education Office there is educational and community expertise to assist with implementation. School boards and faculties of education are responding with new programs and practices.

The College is committed to supporting the work of Aboriginal organizations and other education stakeholders through our accreditation and qualifications processes related to Aboriginal teacher education.

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