Indigenous education in Ontario show signs of progress
People for Education has released a new report with findings from the 2022-23 Annual Ontario School Survey. The report – Still waiting for Truth and Reconciliation – states that publicly funded schools in Ontario have made significant progress on Indigenous education over the last decade. However, it also points out that many steps remain before the province can say that it has fully implemented all the education-related Calls to Action from Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
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The findings in the report – based on responses from 1,044 principals from all of Ontario’s 72 publicly funded school boards – show that some schools have developed strong partnerships with local Indigenous communities, but many others say they need more support from their school board and the Ministry of Education to be successful. Generally, schools in Northern Ontario were more likely to offer Indigenous education opportunities, while schools in the GTA were least likely to offer them.
We have a partnership with [an Indigenous community]. Their program lives in our school, with an Indigenous Youth Outreach Worker providing mentorship opportunities, in-school math and literacy supports, in-school and after school cultural programming and nutritional supports. We collaborate to celebrate an annual powwow, a true highlight at our school. Our Ojibwe Language program continues to grow with an increasing number of students opting to take Ojibwe instead of French as a Second Language each year. Educational staff are open to learning and to providing land-based learning opportunities for students.
– Elementary school principal, Northern Ontario
A positive trend for Indigenous education opportunities in provincially funded schools
The report provides an overview of Ontario’s progress over the last decade in implementing Indigenous education strategies and programs and responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action for education.
Among the findings:
- The proportion of schools reporting professional development for school staff on Indigenous education has more than doubled over the last decade for elementary schools, from 34% in 2012-13 to 76% in 2022-23, and for secondary schools, from 34% in 2012-13 to 82% in 2022-23.
- 72% of secondary schools reported offering an Indigenous studies course in 2022-23, compared to 40% of secondary schools in 2013-14.
- Between 2012 and 2022, the proportion of schools offering Indigenous languages programs has increased from 4% to 13% in elementary schools, and from 11% to 20% in secondary schools.
- 31 school boards are replacing the compulsory Grade 11 English course with an Indigenous-focused course centred on First Nations, Métis, and Inuit voices.
Still waiting for truth and reconciliation
Over the last 16 years, Indigenous education policy in Ontario has been punctuated by reports, frameworks, goals, and changes to funding. There have been commitments to improve the outcomes of Indigenous students, promises to work with Indigenous partners to increase all students’ knowledge of Indigenous perspectives, histories, and cultures, and guidelines to support school boards in implementing voluntary, confidential self-identification processes for Indigenous students. The province has also made commitments to revise Ontario’s social studies and history curriculum for grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10. While some curriculum has been revised, and a new elementary social studies curriculum has been promised for the fall of 2023, there have been challenges along the way.
Backtracking on science curriculum
One glaring misstep was the government’s unilateral last-minute decision in spring 2022 to substantially modify or remove sixteen Indigenous-related expectations in Ontario’s new Science and Technology Curriculum for grades 1-8. This last-minute decision came unexpectedly after spending months of consultation with Indigenous partners.
Slow progress on data collection
Data collection forms a key component of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. Without data, and in particular, race-based data, it is impossible to know if numerous policy goals are being met. Ontario school boards have been encouraged to implement voluntary, confidential Indigenous self-identification initiatives, but progress appears to have been slow. Currently, 50,496 students in provincially funded schools have self-Identified as Indigenous, however, the province estimates the real number is more likely to be over 78,000. This is an issue for funding, because funding for Indigenous education is partly based on numbers of Indigenous students. The lack of accurate data also makes it difficult, if not impossible, to know if Ontario is meeting its achievement goals for Indigenous students.
Recommendations for change
According to the Honourable Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “Education got us into this mess, and education will get us out of it.” The Calls to Action remind us of the importance of Indigenous education for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in Canada’s journey to truth and reconciliation.
While People for Education’s latest findings illustrate that progress has been made in the past decade to advance Indigenous education across publicly funded schools in Ontario, the report also points out that Canada has still has far to go in fulfilling all education-related Calls to Action.
People for Education has three recommendations for Ontario’s Ministry of Education:
- Mandate the Indigenous studies course in place of Grade 11 English/French at the provincial level, and increase the number of elementary and secondary schools offering Indigenous languages and programs by providing funding and resources for:
- The recruitment, hiring, and retention of Indigenous education workers and teachers, in collaboration with school boards and postsecondary faculties of education.
- Frequent, timely, and meaningful professional development opportunities to support educators in implementing Indigenous education.
- Improved data collection and reporting on the status, experience, and outcomes of Indigenous students.
- Provide dedicated funding for positions in schools, boards, and government that are focused on promoting and supporting effective programs on Indigenous languages and ways of knowing.
- Convene a taskforce of diverse and regionally reflective Indigenous educators, Elders, and students to support the Ministry of Education and the 72 publicly funded school boards across Ontario in responding to the Calls to Action regarding education. Activities would include the co-development of curriculum and updating the Ontario First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework that was originally published in 2007.