'Closing the Gap' at the Peril of Widening the Void: Implications of the Ontario Ministry of Education's Policy for Aboriginal Education

Article excerpt

There is a crisis relevant to the publicly funded education of Aboriginal students in Ontario. This article, which presents the details of the crisis, analyzes recent policy statements released by the Ontario Ministry of Education designed to address that crisis. By defining the nature of this critical juncture, presenting how these policies may be "widening the void" rather than "closing the gap," and offering opportunities to respond by improving the capabilities of teachers to enact those policies in their classrooms, the authors appeal to school boards, faculty associations, as well as Deans of Education, to act decisively to support Aboriginal self-determination.

Key words: Aboriginal student achievement, Aboriginal languages and student identity, teacher education

Une crise sevit en ce moment au sujet de l'enseignement autochtone en Ontario financee a meme les deniers publics. Dans cet article, les auteurs decrivent les details de la crise et analysent des enonces de politique recents du ministere de l'Education de l'Ontario visant a denouer la crise. Tout en se penchant sur la nature meme de ce probleme epineux, en expliquant comment ces politiques risquent de << creuser le vide >> au lieu de << combler l'ecart >> et en offrant des possibilites de reponse par l'amelioration des capacites des enseignants de mettre ces politiques en application dans leurs classes, les auteurs font appel aux commissions scolaires, aux associations universitaires et aux doyens d'education afin qu'ils soutiennent activement l'autodetermination des autochtones.

Mots cles : reussite des eleves autochtones, langues autochtones et identite des eleves, formation a l'enseignement.

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Generations of neglect and ill-conceived policy directed at Aboriginal peoples have systematically tarnished the "Honour of the Crown" (Eberhard, 2007) and by extension the honour of all Canadians. On June 11, 2008, the Prime Minister of Canada issued a sweeping Statement of Apology to Aboriginal Canadians for the residential school era and directly linked that experience to the contemporary realities of Aboriginal peoples. Many recognize this statement as a demarcation point on the long road to address the core issues that underlie the contemporary social, economic, and cultural realities of Aboriginal peoples in this country. Although contemporary Canadians are not responsible for the past abuses perpetrated in the name of the Crown, they are now responsible for how they choose to act to change these realities. All have a part to play.

The contemporary realities of Aboriginal peoples are arguably the greatest single social justice issue in Canada today, and the publicly funded education of Aboriginal children in Ontario is an obvious locus of Aboriginal self-determination. Although some work has been done to address Aboriginal educational needs in teacher certification, so much more is required. Without a profound investment in the re-education of in-service teachers and pre-service teacher candidates, the predominant experience of Aboriginal children will effectively undermine their respective communities who are actively engaged in building their children's capacity to be self-determining.

There is a rising chorus that warns of the real potential of a lost generation of Aboriginal children in Ontario public schools. This article is intended to provide details of a crisis relevant to the publicly funded education of Aboriginal children and to overview recent policy initiatives of the Ontario Ministry of Education (OME) designed to address that crisis. To that end, this article explores present realities, critically reviews existing Ontario Ministry of Education documents, and discusses thoughts on how a Faculty of Education might begin to envision a more supportive and yet critical component to Aboriginal self-determination.

BACKGROUND FOR THE STUDY

Statistics Canada (2003a) recorded some 188,315 Aboriginal people residing in Ontario in 2001. …