Anti-racism advocates call for educational reform after concerning immigration assignment

·4 min read
The textbook was published in 2011 by Nelson Education. It was created specifically for Newfoundland and Labrador's social studies curriculum. (Name withheld - image credit)
The textbook was published in 2011 by Nelson Education. It was created specifically for Newfoundland and Labrador's social studies curriculum. (Name withheld - image credit)

Advocacy groups are calling on a number of organizations, including the education department and school districts to undertake an anti-racism educational reform.

The recommendations from the groups come a week after CBC News posted a story about a junior high school assignment that asked students to write down why immigrants and refugees should and should not be allowed into the country, using the textbook.

University professors called the assignment racist and were concerned with the textbook's suggestions for opposing migration: newcomers "may take jobs away from resident Canadians," and "Some immigrants draw on social welfare programs and services," according to the textbook.

"We shouldn't have been the one that wrote this." - Sobia Shaikh, ARC-NL

The Anti-Racism Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador has started a petition with a number of recommendations to improve the kindergarten to grade 12 social studies curriculum, with support from Black Lives Matter NL, the Indigenous Activist Collective and the Social Justice Co-Op.

"We have serious concerns about the adequacy of the K-12 social studies curriculum in general and its treatment of the lived experiences of students who are from immigrant, refugee, Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities in NL," said Raven Khadeja, co-found of Black Lives Matter Newfoundland and Labrador.

Some of the groups recommendations for the department of education, the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District and Conseil Scolaire Francophone Provincial include immediately removing the textbook from the curriculum and issuing a statement to past and present students outlining the inadequacies of the textbook and the commitments to anti-racist education.

Name withheld
Name withheld

Other recommendations include hiring a committee of racialized consultants with proper experience to do a full review of the K-12 social studies curriculum, develop an anti-racist curriculum framework that guides all curriculum decisions and then re-write course material.

It also recommends providing funding for professional development and training for current teachers from Indigenous, migrant and other diverse communities who are interested in furthering their anti-racist education.

The group also wants to establish a paid anti-racist advisory board to monitor changes in the curriculum on an ongoing basis and would also be responsible for fielding complaints about racism and educational material.

Recommendations for the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association included increasing teachers' knowledge about structural racism, other forms of oppression and the immigration system, as well as an increase in educators racial literacy, taught by those with anti-racist education expertise.

"We shouldn't have been the one that wrote this," said Sobia Shaikh. "This particular list came out of frustration by community organizations to say, 'hey look, you are not even at the beginning stages.'"

Education department responds

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development said it has received the list of recommendations and has requested a meeting with the Anti-Racism Coalition.

"I am certainly looking forward to having those discussions with those groups," said Tom Osborne, the education minister.

"The input from the coalition groups or a committee that is formed to help government review curriculum will be important."

Patrick Buter/Radio-Canada
Patrick Buter/Radio-Canada

Osborne said the department is reviewing the curriculum, although he said it is an "onerous" task as there are hundreds of pieces of curriculum in the kindergarten to grade 12 system.

He said changes to the curriculum with community partners has already begun as the department has been working with the Indigenous groups in the province to add four pieces of Indigenous material to the curriculum.

"We are acting, we are responding with the view of the future and ensuring that our classrooms are welcoming," said Osborne.

However, advocates say the speed at which curriculum changes get made is not quick enough and it's hurting the success of some of the province's children.

Advocates said what is being taught in school is important as it can shape the perception and feelings toward certain individuals for the remainder of a person's life.

"The harm is done," said Maria Dussan, the chair for the Anti-Racism Coalition's Healthcare for all Campaign.

"There is an accountability that is owed to them … that accountability in the form of very real commitments to the processes that take time is something that we need now."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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