Academic journal article Education

Striving for Success: First Nations Education in Canada

Academic journal article Education

Striving for Success: First Nations Education in Canada

Article excerpt

Linguistic and Cultural Influences on Canadian Education

Because of the physical proximity of Canada to the United States, many of the educational trends and developments are parallel. There are, however, some linguistic and cultural influences which make Canadian education different from that in the United States. The first major difference concerns bilingualism. The two official languages, French and English, have equal status under the constitution. Consequently, there are many advantages, professional, social and economic, available to the person who is fluent in the two languages. Until recently, relatively few anglophones were able to function in French at an adequate level for employment or social intercourse. French immersion, whereby anglophone students are educated in a system where the language of instruction is predominantly French, is without doubt the great success story of Canadian education. Research on all aspects of French immersion continues to support its popularity among parents of young children.

The second major difference concerns the Canadian policy of multiculturalism. The government funds all sorts of projects intended to promote intended to promote interest and pride in the variety of cultures which make up the Canadian mosaic. For example, instruction in heritage languages by public school boards receives funding from the ministries of education. The Native Indian population of Canada, often referred to as the First Nations, is one group which, in recent years, has seen great changes in the education of its young people.

Native Indian Education

The population of Canada is approximately 25 million and it is said that 90% of the population lives within 100 miles of the American border. Of the total population, 1% to 2% are considered to be of Native ancestry. The reason for the vagueness is that some, due to governmental regulations, are recognized officially as status Indians while others are not. Canada is, however, an expansive country geographically and this leaves immense tracts of land which are sparsely populated. Much of the Native population (but certainly not all) lives in the more isolated regions of northern Canada.

There are several language family groups with many dialects in each among the Native population, but there is sketchy data available on the numbers of speakers of Native languages. For example, a listing of all the Indian bands in Canada names a linguistic/cultural group for each and a language or dialect (DIAND, 1970), but Burnaby (1991) cautions that this information is inadequate since the question of what is a language and what is a dialect is never addressed. She states that "in some communities, the folk identification of Cree and Ojibwe" is in north-western Ontario. Suffice it to say that there are many Native languages spoken in Canada, but some have relatively few speakers left.

There is great diversity in the degree of adherence to the traditional cultures and languages. In some areas, the Native languages are still used exclusively except in school where English is the language of instruction; in others, English has become the language of communication entirely and the Native languages have almost been lost. It should be pointed out that in the province of Quebec, French is sometimes the language of the community and the school.

Teacher Education for Native Schools

Historically, the schools have provided instruction in English from the beginning of formal education when the Native students were sent away from their home communities to boarding schools where they were often punished if caught using their own language with other children. This being the case, it is indeed surprising that some of these languages have survived at all. The curriculum at these boarding schools was the same as that used by the non-Native students in the rest of the province since education is a provincial concern in Canada. This attempt to take young children away from their homes in order to integrate them into file mainstream of Canadian society was not working. …

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