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In 2016, the Aboriginal population accounts for 4.9% of the total Canadian population, and about one-quarter of the Aboriginal people are under 14 years old (Statistic Canadian, 2019). This means that Aboriginal children will play important role in the Canadian future. However, according to the research about half of the Aboriginal students dropped from high school (Maclver, 2012). The low academic achievement of aboriginal students is a big concern for society, which is not only for academic learning but also for the employment rate. According to Statistic Canada (2018), people who graduated from high school have more chances employed than people are not graduated from high school. Therefore, academic achievement will affect people’s employment rate and family income. To help indigenous children to improve their future lives, they need to improve academic achievement. It needs to answer the essential questions that are why the aboriginal students’ academic achievement is lower than the non-Aboriginal students, and what the educators or mainstream education curriculum can do to help Aboriginal students to be successful.
Many factors cause Aboriginal students’ academic achievement. Some are historical reasons, such as residential schools, traditional values, and Aboriginal traditional teaching and learning style; there are some social factors, such as racism, poverty, teachers’ exceptions, and school environments.
Residential schools were established by the Canadian government that brought indigenous children from their families, instead of learning indigenous culture and language, these children were taught the Euro-Chastain value of English and French (The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2019; National collaborating, 2017). Although indigenous children learned the English/French and Euro-Chastain value, they had lost their culture, language, and even family connections. In addition, the school environment and working staffing did not friendly to indigenous children. The punishments and abuse caused trauma for children who lived in residential schools.
The traditional indigenous teaching style is passing knowledge from elders, usually family members, to the next generational oral or experimentally (National collaborating, 2017). After the residential school system, the education system of indigenous culture had been broken. However, the mainstream education system is controlled by the government based on the European education structure. It has the different values, motivations, and goals of indigenous culture, so indigenous children have a hard time achieving high academic performance and are easy to drop out of school.
The social-economic is also a reason that affects Aboriginal students’ academic achievements, children from low-income families usually have a few achievements in few achievements academic achievements (Whitely, 2014). The reason is that children’s mental and physical development is associated with the living environment and family support (National collaborating, 2017). If children are from poverty families, their families probably do not have enough finical support for children’s education, and children may want to work instead of studying to support their families financially. Based on the research, the majority of Aboriginal people live in reserve areas, so there are low-quality houses, a problem with food safety, and less infrastructure support (National collaborating, 2017). The lower qualify live condition has a negative influence on children’s development. The communities may have fewer resources to provide support for children’s education.
The school environment
The school environment is also an essential factor that affects indigenous children’s academic achievement, which negative school environment will contribute to low academic achievement (Barnes, 2006). The historical problems caused Aboriginal students to experience racism and stereotype in school, either from peers, teachers, or school staff (Whitley, 2014), which are negative experiences for students. For example, the Aboriginal student usually has the label of “lazy” or “stupid” that teachers do not have the high expectation of these students. The negative experience in school will cause an absence from school, which influences their academic achievement.
If teachers have noticed Aboriginal students’ strengths and interacted with students in a positive relationship, it will affect students’ development and academic achievement (Whitley, 2014). In addition, a safe school environment will help students to share their both positive and negative experiences with teachers, and teachers will have more chances to know and help the students.
Peer relationships will also play a significant role in Aboriginal students' school life both in academic achievement and self-development (Whitley, 2014). First, good peer relationship with peers means more chance to communicate with peers inside or outside of the classroom, so students easier to speak out during group discussion. Second, good peer relationships will engage students to come to school, and they feel they are not alone or isolated from others. Third, good peer relationships will provide more support from school and have the confidence to challenge themselves.
The mainstream curriculum is based on European values, which are different than the indigenous values and culture. Aboriginal students could not find the meaningful purpose of the curriculum and school experience. This is the huge gap between mainstream education and the traditional indigenous education system, so Aboriginal students have less engagement of being at school. In addition, the traditional indigenous activity may affect children's school life. For example, hunting is an important part of indigenous lives, and to keep hurting in the morning may affect children’s school performance.
New curriculum and policy
The BC new curriculum has added Aboriginal education in a meaningful and mannerly way. This is not only saying it, but connecting the Aboriginal perspective with the lessons to make the content meaningful for Aboriginal students, and it also provides an opportunity for non-Aboriginal students to learn it.
There are many resources about reconciliation and Anti-racism for educators to use in the classroom. However, I think helping Aboriginal students, is much more than the resources or policy. In Hopkins’s paper (2013), he analyzed the policy of reconciliation, in which colonized people need to take the responsibility for the injustices and “look backward to move forward” (pp 237). The government needs to accept and face their mistake, and the reconciliation is not about forgetting or revenge, it is about remembering and respecting the Aboriginal culture. Therefore, mainstream education will play the most important role to help all students to understand the Aboriginal culture and to help Aboriginal students succeed in the education system
There are some teaching strategies for teachers to support Aboriginal students to succeed. First, teachers should provide a positive, respectful, and safe classroom environment for all students, so students can share their needs and experience or search for help in school. Second, teachers should provide positive feedback (Gallop, 2016). Positive feedback can give students confidence and engagement in learning. Third, teachers should have clear classroom expectations for students (Gallop, 2016). Clear expectations can help students to set the goal of learning. More important is that students realized that the teachers care about them, so they have the motivation to learn.
Aboriginal children’s education is a huge concern in society, and many factors affect the Aboriginal students’ learning outcomes. The residential school and historical problems play an important role of influence the Aboriginal education system. This is a long-time process to help Aboriginal students to adapt to the mainstream education system and also to help them to make the connection with indigenous culture. The mainstream education system, communities, and society have the responsibility to support the Indigenous children to keep their own culture, as well as learn the new curriculum to deferences.
- Statistic Canadian (2019). https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/171025/dq171025a-eng.htm
- Maclver, Marion. (2012). Aboriginal Students’ Perspectives on the Factors Influencing High School Completion
- Gallop, C. J., & Bastien N. (2016). Supporting Success: Aboriginal Students in Higher Education. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, Volume 46, No. 2, 2016, pages 206 - 224
- Whitley, Jessica. (2014). Supporting Educational Success for Aboriginal Students: Identifying key influences. McGill Journal of Education, vol. 49(1). p. 155-181.
- MacIver, Marion. (2012). Aboriginal Students’ Perspectives on the Factors Influencing High School Completion. Multicultural Perspectives, 14:3, 156-162, DOI: 10.1080/15210960.2012.697008
- Kanu, Yatta. (2007). Increasing School Success Among Aboriginal Students: Culturally Responsive Curriculum or Macrostructural Variables Affecting Schooling?. Diaspora, Indigenous, and Minority Education, 1:1, 21-41
- Barnes, R., Josefowitz, N., & Cole, E. (2007). Residential school impact on Aboriginal students’ academic and cognitive development. Canadian Journal of School Psychology Volume 21 Number 1/2 December 2006 18-32
- Hopkins, J. (2013). Justice and American Indian Education: A Reconciliation Approach. Philosophy of Education Society.
- National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health. (2017). EDUCATION AS A SOCIAL DETERMINANT OF FIRST NATIONS, INUIT AND MÉTIS HEALTH.
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