Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Development and Evaluation of a Peer Mentorship Program for Aboriginal University Students

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Development and Evaluation of a Peer Mentorship Program for Aboriginal University Students

Article excerpt

Introduction

Aboriginal university students often encounter many educational challenges. For example, relative to non-Aboriginal students, on average, Aboriginal students experience greater relocation from their communities that may result in lower social support, and also a delayed transition from secondary to post-secondary education (Canadian Council of Ministers of Education, 2011). This may result in lower levels of motivation and academic preparedness (Canadian Council of Ministers of Education, 2011). Moreover, compared to non-Aboriginal youth, on average Aboriginal youth have less access to funds to attend post-secondary education (Canadian Council of Ministers of Education, 2011). Aboriginal youth may also have increased stress due to lower socio-economic status and additional responsibilities of caring for family members, concerns regarding cultural safety and appropriate role models in the post-secondary environment, and a perceived lack of control over education (Canadian Council of Ministers of Education, 2011). In order to understand and address the complex needs of Aboriginal youth in post-secondary environments, it is important to acknowledge not only these current educational challenges, but also the historical context, including a long history of assimilationist education policies, chronic abusive experiences and the removal of Aboriginal children from their homes and placement in residential schools (Barnes, Josefowitz, & Cole, 2006). More specifically, due to the impact of colonialism, Aboriginals in Canada encountered cultural oppression through forced assimilation (Kirmayer, Simpson, & Cargo, 2003). Aboriginal children were separated from their families and placed in residential schools, which replaced Aboriginal religious and cultural beliefs and practices with the language, beliefs, and practices of non-Aboriginal Canadians. In residential schools, many children experienced severe discipline, and physical and sexual abuse. Later, many Aboriginal children were again removed from their homes and placed into foster care on the premise that Aboriginal parents experienced challenges providing and caring for their children (Kirmayer et al., 2003).

As a result of these historical and contemporary issues, the educational attainment of Aboriginal people is often lower than the general population. For example, in Canada, approximately 46% of Aboriginal youth complete high school, compared to 65% of the general population (Mendelson, 2006). The 2006 Canadian census revealed that 35% of Aboriginal Canadians, aged 25 to 64, have completed post-secondary education, compared to 51% of non-Aboriginal Canadians (Statistics Canada, 2008). Among those students who continue to post-secondary education, 31% of Aboriginal youth are more likely to drop out in their first or second year and 64% live away from home, compared to 13% and 49% of non-Aboriginal youth, respectively (Finnie, Childs, Kramer, & Wismer, 2010). Thus, there is a need to develop programs that contribute to the success and meet the needs of Aboriginal students attending post-secondary institutions.

Many studies have demonstrated the academic and mental health advantages of students participating in mentorship programs, including improving self-esteem and life satisfaction (DuBois & Silverthorn, 2005; Jekeliek, Moore, Hair, & Scarupa, 2002; Kahveci, Southerland, & Gilmer, 2006). In particular, mentorship programs have been shown to be advantageous for culturally diverse students, including having a positive impact on ethnic identity awareness (Kaplan, Turner, Piotrkowki, & Silber, 2009). However, considering the large number of Canadian colleges and universities, few peer mentorship programs have been developed for Aboriginal youth in Canadian post-secondary institutions, despite the many educational challenges experienced by Aboriginal youth, compared to non-Aboriginal youth. Emerging research suggests that school (i. …

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