BRITISH COLUMBIA

B.C. teachers, students to learn more about aboriginal culture and history

06/19/2015 04:01 EDT | Updated 06/19/2016 05:59 EDT
VICTORIA - Teachers in British Columbia will devote one of their professional development days next year to aboriginal education, the education minister says.

The change coincides with the government's plans to introduce school curriculum changes that focus on First Nations culture and history, including the discriminatory residential school system.

Education Minister Peter Fassbender said Friday that it's the first time aboriginal education is the sole focus of a professional development day, when teachers gather for conferences while students are out of school.

"All of us ... recognize our significant responsibility to work together for the future of our aboriginal communities and how we integrate and partner with them in the future," he said.

B.C. teachers have six annual professional development days as part of their collective agreement, and the government is able to decide the development topic for one of those days. Anti-bullying and trades training initiatives have been previous topics chosen by the province.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation said it supports the move for a First Nations education day, especially because the ministry is set to introduce education curriculum changes that will see students cover aboriginal topics.

"With the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report and then all the work that's been done here in B.C. over the past five or six years to set the stage for these curriculum changes, it's a good choice," said BCTF first vice-president Glen Hansman.

Students as young as 10 will soon be taught that past government policies towards aboriginals resulted in the crushing legacy of Canada's residential-school system.

Starting in Grade 5, students will learn about that history and other racist government programs, such as the Chinese head tax, as part of a new kindergarten-to-Grade-12 education curriculum.

"It is very positive in that it's being integrated across the curriculum," Hansman said. "It isn't just sort of one little thing stuck into a corner in social studies."

The recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission report into Canada's residential school experience recommended the creation and funding of aboriginal-education legislation, concluding Canada's residential-school system was a form of cultural genocide.

Fassbender said B.C. is committed to improving education outcomes for aboriginal students and promoting greater understanding, empathy and respect for aboriginal history and culture among students and their families through the revised curriculum.

He signed an agreement Friday with First Nations educators that aims to guide collaboration efforts on aboriginal education.

Jo-Anne Chrona, spokeswoman for the First Nations Education Steering Committee, part of a collective of aboriginal groups, said the professional development day move "supports teachers who are endeavouring to do the best work they can around aboriginal education in the classroom."

There are about 66,000 aboriginal students in B.C.'s public and independent schools — about 10.5 per cent of the total student population.

A joint report from B.C.'s provincial health officer and children's representative released Thursday found that graduation rates among B.C. aboriginal students are rising but too many of them are leaving school or not achieving at school.

The report also found aboriginal children make up eight per cent of the children and youth in B.C., but 50 per cent of the more than 8,000 children in government care.