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Integrating Aboriginal Perspectives into the School Curriculum

September 21, 2011 — 

Dr. Yatta Kanu offers an educational framework to engage learning and academic achievement for Aboriginal students in Canada’s public high schools.

Integrating Aboriginal Perspectives into the School Curriculum: Purposes, Possibilities, and Challenges is the result of Dr. Yatta Kanu’s six years (2002 – 2007) spent investigating the integration of Aboriginal cultural knowledge/perspectives into the school curriculum in a large urban centre in Western Canada. This work attempts to invoke curriculum theory, visions, and a future that signals a more habitable form of school life for Aboriginal students.

Originally from Sierra Leone, Dr. Yatta Kanu’s interest in culturally responsive education for Canadian Aboriginal students stems from her own colonial educational experiences in West Africa and later her post-graduate studies in Britain and Canada which exposed her to the exclusion, subjugation, and misrepresentation of her own cultural background and that of other racial and ethnic minority students.

In Integrating Aboriginal Perspectives into the School Curriculum Kanu contends that a person’s cultural knowledge and awareness of their own history is what makes it possible for them to act as an autonomous human being with the freedom to act and contribute to collective and collaborative social life.

Drawing on her own educational experiences, Kanu states that “Education should enable students to draw on their cultural knowledge, traditions, and aspirations to examine the assumptions underlying the knowledge, perspectives, and relations they experience in school and, through critical analysis and reflection, be better able to imagine and work towards the future (and the present) they desire.” Kanu believes that any education/curriculum that has democratic empowerment as its goal must have this kind of critical literacy as its foundation. Regretably, Kanu writes, some students cultural socialization processes are excluded from their schooling experiences, thereby denying them full and equal access to the education they need in order to take up the fight for social justice and a better future.

Kanu draws on her long experience as a teacher educator working with student teachers and on the results of a Student Awareness Survey administered by the Coalition for the Advancement of Aboriginal Studies (CAAS) among postsecondary students across Canada to argue that Canadian students do not feel they have inadequate knowledge about Aboriginal peoples or the issues affecting the lives of Aboriginal peoples. “These experiences set me thinking about curriculum research that advances mainstream educators’ understanding of Aboriginal students and how this understanding could inform and shape the education of Aboriginal students in Canada’s public schools.”

Integrating Aboriginal Perspectives into the School Curriculum is a response to the call to increase school success for Aboriginal students by including Aboriginal cultural knowledge/perspectives into school curricula. The book draws on a broad range of literature to provide a strong rationale and context for the integration of Aboriginal perspectives into schooling processes and it addresses salient questions such as the following: Are there elements of Aboriginal culture sufficiently common among diverse Aboriginal groups which teachers can integrate into their classrooms to enhance learning for Aboriginal students? If so, how can such elements be effectively integrated into the school curriculum and instructional repertoires of teachers? Does such integration increase academic achievement, class attendance, and school retention among Aboriginal students? If so, what are the critical elements of the integration processes that account for such success? The book provides theoretical and practical tools for answering these questions. Some learning opportunities and challenges entailing the integration of Aboriginal perspectives are also presented.

Dr. Kanu acknowledges The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) for funding the research studies comprising the book. She also recognizes the Aboriginal Education Directorate, Aboriginal education resource centres in Winnipeg, and Linda Marynuk and Leon Simard for providing cultural advice, Aboriginal resources, and invaluable assistance with data collection. The Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal teachers and students who participated in the studies and whose voices and view-points framed and informed the book’s content are also acknowledged.

Dr. Yatta Kanu is professor in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching & Learning in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.

Integrating Aboriginal Perspectives into the School Curriculum: Purposes, Possibilities, and Challenges was published by the University of Toronto Press, 2011.

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