Inthe year 1993, the Ontario Ministry of Education Curriculum Documenthighlighted the need to push for equity in education. The document tstated in part that “A commitment to equity means a commitment tosocial justice. This includes a commitment to removing establishedbarriers and biases in school policies, programs, and practices sothat the intended learning outcomes may be achieved by students ofall societal groups, including those that have been traditionallydisadvantaged” (Ontario Ministry of Education Curriculum Document1993, cited in Varpalotai, 1995, p. 242). Twenty years later, Canadais still addressing the issue of equality and social justice ineducation especially in regards traditionally disadvantaged groupsmainly represented by the First Nation’s people. Some of thebarriers that existed many years ago remain today while new ones havecropped up. This paper discusses these barriers and biases for thesegroups and evaluates potential strategies that can effectively removethese barriers with support from current relevant literature oninclusion in education.
Inorder to achieve the set goals of social justice and equity, there isneed to address the status quo. While it is true that Canada’seducation system has changed over the years, some of the challengesthat were facing the education system in 1993 are yet to be fullyaddressed. Other challenges have metamorphosized into more complexbarriers making the initial strategies set up to address themineffective. Consequently, some minority groups continue to bealienated and their inclusion in the Canadian mainstream societypolitically, socially, culturally, and economically is yet to beachieved. Education is viewed as the perfect starting point throughwhich social justice can be attained in Canada. Given the numerousethnic groups in, there is need to recognize their unique role andplace in society (Wotherspoon, 2013). For this reason, the governmentintroduced the concept of multiculturalism as a means of recognizingand celebrating diversity in Canada in the 1960’s and thereafterenacted into law in 1988 (Wotherspoon & Jungbluth 1995). A numberof scholars commend this approach as the answer to achieving socialjustice and lead to the protection of human rights, respect forothers and acknowledging cultural, linguistic and religiousdifferences (Dewing, 2009). Social justice in the Canadian contextmeans giving these different groups access to equal opportunities andresources that will enable them to participate and contribute towardsthe mainstream society.
However,this notion of social justice has been termed as ambiguous. Manyscholars have failed short of offering a standard definition ofsocial justice that fits all situations. Nonetheless, there isagreement that other than enabling social, cultural, political andeconomic participation of individuals in the mainstream society,there is a need to actively remove barriers to social justice(Dewing, 2009). On the other hand, equity is defined as fairness andresponsibility for all people more so in areas where the system orthe law can discriminate against certain individuals and groups(Dewing, 2009). Another term introduced and related to the other twois diversity. Berman and Paradies (2008) define diversity as theacceptance of varying human characteristics such as race, ethnicity,cultural practices, beliefs, identities, beliefs, worldviews anddemographic differences.
Canadais one of the first countries in the world to adopt the concept ofmulticulturalism. This concept of multiculturalism can be interpretedon three different levels according to Dewing (2009). The first isdescriptively based in sociology where Canada is said to comprisethree basic ethnicities: First Nation’s people, whites, and otherimmigrants. The other dimension of multiculturalism in Canada isprescriptively based on ideology. From this perspective, Canada ismulticultural in the sense that the nation possesses a set of ideasgeared towards celebrating the different cultures in the country.Politically, the government both at the federal and provincial levelhas enacted various initiatives and policies to manage diversity.
TheFirst Nation’s people are one of the minority groups that are stillgetting a raw deal in terms of education and social justice. Thereare a number of treaties that the Fist Nation’s signed with theCanadian Federal government each outlining the obligations of eachparty. One such requirement for Canadian federal government asrepresented by the Crown’s Treaty Commissioners was to providewestern education to the First Nations and to enable them to “liveand prosper and provide” in exchange for sharing their land withthe newcomers (Morris, 1991, p. 28 cited in Carr-Stewart, Balzer &Cottrell, 2013). Despite the Natives fulfilling their part of theagreement, the Canadian federal government did not fully fulfill itspart of the agreement. Up to today, the First Nations still lagbehind in education, health, socioeconomic engagement, and politicalparticipation in Canadian society. As of 2006, 41% of the Aboriginalpopulation aged 25 to 64 years had post-secondary certification ofwhich only 8% had a university degree. In contrast, 61% thenon-Aboriginal Canadians had a post-secondary education (PSE) with23% having a college degree (Employment and Social DevelopmentCanada, (HRSDC), 2015).
Froma different angle, the first nation’s people are losing out. Thereare faced with deteriorating health conditions with the prevalence ofpreventable diseases such as tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS being higher.Lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and heart diseases are also moreprevalent among the indigenous people than other ethnic groups(Fleras & Elliott, 2006). Suicide rates, depression, alcoholismand unemployment are also significantly higher in this group (ibid).Some of these situations are caused by poor government funding suchas in poor health, which can create public awareness on lifestylediseases and other communicable diseases such as HIV. On the overall,the living standards in this particular group is ranked 63rdin the world that is equivalent to a third world country. Suchpoverty exists in a country where the national average income levelsare among the highest among OECD countries (Carr-Stewart, Balzer &Cottrell, 2013). To capture this contrast, Manuel and Schabus (2005)call this socio-economic marginalization of the first nation’speople as “the fourth world” inside the “first word” (p.223). Several studies have blamed this socioeconomicdisenfranchisement of the Aboriginal people on low education levelsemanating from historical and current barriers to education (Harris,1994 Petoukhov, 2013 Fleras & Elliott, 2006).
Onesuch barrier that continues to have massive impact on the indigenouspeople relates to attitudes towards education. From the verybeginning, the British colonization of Canada set off on a wrongfooting. The resistance to the colonial rule encountered in someregions was blamed on lack of civilization. The colonial governmentthus embarked on an assimilation approach that sought to induct theNatives into a civilized western way of life through westerneducation. The policy led to the establishment of the infamousresidential schools that methodically sought to alienate youngchildren from their families and elders in order to assimilate theminto a new culture. The residential schools were unpopular among theNatives because of the harsh treatment that they received. Manyformer residential school students talk of sexual abuse, molestationand beatings as some of the memories from the schools. This created anegative attitude towards western education that hampered its uptakeamong the Natives.
Formany generations of the indigenous people, PSE and assimilation intothe mainstream Canadian society were viewed as a way of losing Indianstatus and family ties. On the contrary, for the non-Natives, PSE wasa springboard to greater wealth, higher social status, and betteremployment opportunities. For this reason, the non-Native Canadianspursued education fervently while the Natives only pursued primaryschool. Such basic education was functional at best. Many Nativestudents with potential stayed away from PSE in order to retain theirIndian identity and family ties. The federal government alsocontributed towards this negative attitude towards PSE in other ways.In particular, the Indian Act 1876, which was enacted to promoteaffirmative action towards the Natives, worked against its purpose.Section 86(1) states:
AnyIndian who may be admitted to the degree of Doctor of Medicine, or toany other degree by any University of leaning, or who may be admittedin any province of the Dominion to practice law either as an advocateor as a barrister or counselor or solicitor or attorney or to be anotary public, or who may enter Holy Orders or who may be licensed byany denomination of Christians as a minister of the gospel, shallipso facto become and be enfranchised (Venne 1981p. 46, cited inCarr-Stewart 2013, p. 27)
Inshort, PSE was the quickest route to losing one’s Indian identity,and the government sanctioned this through the constitution.
Consequently,the little indigenous representation in the higher education over theyears has led to an imbalance and poor understanding of Aboriginalpeople. It is an open secret that many non-Natives Canadian tend toclassify the Natives as one homogeneous group. Unknown to manypeople, there are over 500 federally recognized Native Indiansocieties in Canada each with its unique culture and even way ofknowing. However, government’s affirmative policies targeting theNatives tend to perceive them as one homogenous group. This approachdenies the government the opportunity to develop inclusion strategiesspecific to each tribal grouping within the larger Natives group.Furthermore, this larger Natives group is under-represented in majordecision-making organs in the country, which is as a result ofshunning higher education. For Native students attending universitiesand colleges, they encounter very few Aboriginal faculty members whocan act as mentors, role models, advisors and even offer betterunderstanding and support capacity to such students. Additionally,this lack of a critical mass of Indians in the decision-makingorgans, more so in education denies the Natives the opportunity toinfuse Aboriginal epistemology into the curriculum to make it morepalatable to Native students.
ForAfricans, the situation is somehow different. The greatest impedimentsocial justice among African immigrants in Canada primarily stemsfrom racial discrimination mostly based on skin color. Severalstudies have noted that immigrants in Canada, just like immigrants inother countries, have trouble in settling down and assimilating intothe local culture and society. However, Africans and especiallycolored ones from sub-Saharan Africa have faced elevated barriers tosettling down in non-black societies. A study by Creese and Wiebe(2012) noted that blacks faced more difficulties in landingemployment in Canada irrespective of their education level andtraining compared to other non-black immigrants and white Canadians.Consequently, most African immigrants in Canada result toself-employment to restore their autonomy and dignity and togenerally survive because they less likely to be gainfully employedcompared to other job seekers. Furthermore, some employers insist onCanadian qualifications from job seekers that systematically lock outimmigrants with foreign qualifications (Galabuzi, 2006). However, theperceived low quality of education in sub-Sahara African amongCanadian employers implies that immigrants who have qualificationsfrom these regions face the least opportunities for employment (Kanu,2008). Other employers perceive all immigrants as unskilled labormeaning that immigrants are forced to experience loss of status andeven forced to switch careers just to survive (Creese & Wiebe,2009)
Pascoeand Richman’ (2009) meta-analytic review of 19 studies on the roleof perceived discrimination on health showed that 18 studiesconfirmed a negative relationship between perceived discriminationand health. Discrimination is a primary source of stress, depression,heart failure, and other non-infectious diseases that affectparticipation in socioeconomic activities and education. The amountof time and resources spent on addressing such health challengescompete could be better utilized in education and socioeconomicinvolvement of African-Canadians. A number of scholars haveattributed multiculturalism as a means of celebrating diversity inliberal societies to increased cases of racism. Kachur (2003) notesthat the lack of a precise definition of racism and anti-racism, aswell as delusion on the concept of multiculturalism have combined topromote racism instead of fighting it.
Froma theoretical point of view, the multicultural approach is the bestway to approach the current status of inequality in Canada. Accordingto Harris (1994), this approach recognizes that different cultureshave different values and thus education must be shaped in a mannerthat recognizes these cultures and their values. The curriculum mustbe flexible enough to factor in elements that are important toindividual groups rather than attempting to assimilate them into theculture of the majority. The assimilationist approach, which wastried unsuccessfully by the Canadian colonial government, assumesthat learners have to abandon their minor groups and join themajority group through education. To effectively infuse themulticulturalism concept in education, teachers themselves must bewell informed of equity issues in society (Mazurek & Kach, 1990).Therefore, the best way to achieve social justice for themarginalized groups is to change teacher training. As reported in byPetoukhov (2013), teacher’s handling of students in the Indianresidential schools is the root problem of today’s poor socialrelations in Canada. The natives can no longer trust white Canadiansafter the mistreatment that several natives went through in thewestern education system. Additionally, the natives have neverforgiven the colonizers for bringing diseases and lifestyles thatcaused the deaths of thousands of Indians.
Inthis regard, Canadian teachers should be trained more on addressingequity matters as part of a democratic society (Harrsi 1994).However, for this to happen, it has to be firmly based on thedemocratic social relations that support equity, otherwise teacherswill encounter continuous challenges. Such continuous challengespredicted are still being experienced in Canada many years afterlaunching multiculturalism. Nonetheless, the multiculturalism conceptis the best suited for the education system in Canada as it candeliver the much needed equality and social justice. However, this isonly possible if the social relations in the country allow it. As itstands, the social relations in the country are hostile. Racism isrampant in some areas depending on who is asked. The system itselfallows for discrimination as is the case with a clause in theconstitution that stipulates the conditions for losing one’scultural identity. Therefore, the potential of multiculturalism as apolitical, ideological and social concept will not be achieved if thefoundation for the concept is not well laid out. A good foundationlies in good social relations.
Inline with the terms of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,the Canadian government should establish more post-secondary learninginstitutions to cater to the specific needs of learners (Mackay,1995). This way, the government will be able to remove the colonialtag attached to PSE by the first nations. Institutions such as theUniversity of Saskatchewan have been established with a uniquemission of addressing the educational needs of these people withintheir epistemological and cultural understanding. Such institutionsshould be placed within the Native communities to demystify PSE. Thefact that pursuance of PSE has in the past been viewed as a choicebetween one’s Native identity and assimilation hinders enrolmentinto PSE. Increased enrollment of Natives recorded in University ofSaskatchewan indicates that, if additionally institutions with asimilar approach are established, then social justices will berealized more quickly.
Thecurrent situation in the Canadian society has not emerged overnightbut rather is a culmination of decades and decades of inadequatepolicies that have not addressed the unique needs of Native Indiansand other minority groups. It is clear that the policies enacted ineducation and other areas have not achieved desired results (Mazurek& Kach, 1990). The segregation and alienation of the Natives hasbeen so entrenched such that other immigrant communities cannot fitin any side and thus end up being alienated also. Consequently,social relations in Canada are very poor. As highlighted in thestudy, basing social inclusion or multiculturalism on these poorsocial relations can hardly achieve the desired results. Themulticultural approach as cited by theorists can address inequalityamong various groups but has failed in Canada. As per therecommendations, there is need to address social relations in Canada.They can be best approached through social means such as sports,music and others. Therefore, future research into promoting socialjustice should look at means of integrating the various immigrant anddisadvantaged groups into the Canadian mainstream society. This way,the people can celebrate their diversity as one people as suggestedby the multiculturalism concept.
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