For the first time, a new B.C. teaching standard has been introduced requiring educators in the province to “commit to truth, reconciliation and healing” by incorporating traditional Indigenous perspectives into their teaching practice.
When it was announced on June 19 it grabbed headlines, but some in the community raised concerns of how already overloaded teachers and schools can meaningfully and accurately implement Indigenous perspectives into lessons.
“We want to ensure students have the opportunity to learn Indigenous perspectives throughout all subjects in their school career,” said Rob Fleming, Minister of Education. “That’s why it’s imperative our teachers commit to the highest standards when it comes to respecting and valuing the role of Indigenous peoples.”
On a governance level, this fall the province will make sure all its laws and policies are in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and has already committed to complete the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Additionally, the new teaching standard compels educators to include Indigenous histories, cultures and world views into the classroom.
Some critics ask if teachers can play a meaningful role in accommodating or reconciling fractured views of the national historical narrative and experience. Is reconciliation, especially land and resource allocation, better suited for government?
When the announcement was made, Jim Iker (chair, British Columbia Teachers’ Council), Tyrone McNeil (president, First Nations Education Steering Committee) and Glen Hansman (president, BC Teachers’ Federation) spoke in passionate support of the changes.
“It is crucial that B.C. teachers, regardless of where they work in B.C., have accurate and culturally responsive teaching resources, as well as support to meaningfully incorporate Indigenous content and worldviews into all work in K-12. That includes ongoing opportunities for anti-racism training and professional development about the inter-generational effects of residential schools and the Sixties Scoop,” said Hansman.
The standards extend to 72,000 teachers, who will need to include a “deeper understanding” of these perspectives into their schemes of work and units of teaching. Many schools already offer broad and inclusive lessons, and teachers graduating from B.C. education programs require three credits in First Nations learners’ perspectives to graduate. It would seem B.C. schools are already set up to accommodate the changes, especially as provincial schools currently offer 17 Indigenous languages to study, with six more on the way.
To better support new teachers meet the standard, a B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education spokesperson said, “Public-post secondary institutions are working to finalise the details of how they will integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into the curriculum,” noting this could, “include partnerships with Indigenous communities to co-construct and co-teach materials for teacher education programs.”
And what of the student curriculum itself – has academic rigour been maintained in the face of inclusive objectives?
In a detailed response, Sean Leslie, Communications Manager at the B.C. Ministry of Education gave many examples from across the curriculum that showed clear learning objectives and lesson ideas, from Kindergarten science all the way to high-school math.
“The Science Kindergarten Curriculum links to traditional ecological knowledge, which could be explored by inviting a guest from a local First Nation to take students berry picking, make jam, and give the jam away in a traditional gift-giving ceremony,” he said as one example. “The Mathematics Grade 9 Curriculum links to mathematical concepts illustrated in First Peoples traditional design, which could be explored by developing a diagram and a scale model of a traditional circle dwelling, applying knowledge of circles, polygons, and surface area.”
Education leaders have seemed receptive to the new standard, and hope more resources and updated training will help teachers build on the anti-racism, inclusion and reconciliation work already happening in schools. The province say, to that end, $3.1 million has been directed to Indigenous teacher training and, in the next academic year, one non-instructional day will be given to focus on Indigenous student achievement.