Feature—Highlights of the CTF survey on teachers’ perspectives on Aboriginal education
As part of our ongoing work on education-related Aboriginal issues, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) conducted a survey to seek out the perspectives of classroom teachers on diverse topics related to Aboriginal education with a view to informing practice and policy. For the purpose of the survey, Aboriginal education refers to the teaching of Aboriginal content (history, culture and current issues), and perspectives to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in Canada’s public schools. The term “Aboriginal people” refers to members of First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI), as well as those who are non-status.
CTF received nearly 1,900 responses to the online survey from teachers in public elementary and secondary schools across the country. The survey, which was distributed through our Member teacher organizations, was conducted in November and December 2015.
Here are some of the key findings based on the overall results.
Status of Aboriginal education in the school/curriculum
Two thirds of teachers surveyed report they incorporate some issues, content or perspectives related to Aboriginal people into their current teaching practice. Among these respondents, half reported they do this occasionally, while one third do so regularly.
By far, the most frequently cited approach to introducing Aboriginal education into the school curriculum is by integrating it into courses such as Cultural Studies, History or Geography. Three quarters of teachers surveyed indicate this approach is being used in their school, followed by the use of culturally appropriate days/weeks that incorporate selected themes into the overall curriculum (30%), and a course or class dedicated to Aboriginal education (20%).
While the majority of teachers indicated they felt Aboriginal culture was represented in their school’s curriculum, 41% said that it was somewhat represented while only 13% felt it was significantly represented in the curriculum.
The most common methods used in public schools to provide or include various aspects of Aboriginal culture and knowledge to their students are library materials and Aboriginal speakers.
Among the opinions expressed by teachers were a need to connect Aboriginal content to curricular outcomes. They also want content relevant to their subject areas including Math and Science which were perceived by a number of respondents as posing particular integration challenges. In addition, respondents want information on residential schools, treaty rights/treaties and other topics; curriculum-specific resources; and lesson plans and other teaching material that reflect the local community and context.
Another issue raised by a number of respondents was an increasingly ‘crowded’ curriculum in terms of coverage of numerous curriculum outcomes, and the particular challenges this poses to the teaching of Aboriginal education.
A number of respondents expressed the need for a balance in the curriculum between teaching Aboriginal content and perspectives, and teaching about other cultures in a multicultural society. Also, addressing the broad cultural diversity that exists within the FNMI community itself was identified as a particular challenge. Some respondents stressed the support and leadership of school and district administrators as well as government as being important in assisting them to integrate Aboriginal content into the curriculum.
Resources available for Aboriginal education
The majority of all teachers surveyed report that 3 of 4 examined resources in their school pertaining to the integration of Aboriginal content and perspectives into the curriculum are either barely sufficient or insufficient. [Chart 1a] This includes resource and reading materials and books, professional development and training, and support provided by Aboriginal teachers and elders. Teachers who expressed an opinion were most likely to report that resources were “insufficient,” including half who expressed an opinion with respect to the latter two aforementioned resources. [Chart 1b]
When asked to describe what they would require to adequately prepare themselves to integrate Aboriginal content and perspectives into their teaching practice, many teacher respondents expressed an interest in having access to Aboriginal elders and knowledge keepers to provide them with first-hand knowledge of Aboriginal cultures. Elders would act as resource people in supporting teachers in the classroom, in providing professional development, and in assisting in the development of curriculum and other resources. Respondents also suggested the need for more direct contact with local Aboriginal communities and increasing the number of Aboriginal teachers/educators in the public school system.
Respondents also told us they need age/grade-appropriate and curriculum-based resources that:
- are up-to-date, accurate and accessible;
- examine specific topics such as treaty rights and residential schools;
- focus on the local Aboriginal population and local issues;
- are available in French;
- are better funded.
Chart 1. Teachers views on level of sufficiency of examined resources to
integrate Aboriginal content and perspectives into the curriculum
Overall results for the four examined resources
1A. Shares of total respondents
1B. Shares of respondents expressing an opinion
(excludes “Not applicable” and “Don’t know” responses)
Knowledge of Aboriginal people
Teachers surveyed were more likely to report having knowledge of the history, local culture and communities, and current issues with respect to First Nations than the Métis and the Inuit.
Teachers reported that the most common forms of learning or training they had engaged in to improve their knowledge of Aboriginal people were hard copy books/lesson plans and workshops, followed by oral traditions (e.g. elders/knowledge keepers) and online reports and articles. (Chart 2)
Chart 2. Shares of teachers reporting the use of various forms of learning or training in the past to improve their knowledge of Aboriginal people
Half of teachers reported having participated in professional development activities to develop/enhance their knowledge and/or skills pertaining to First Nations, Métis, or Inuit history, cultural perspectives or contemporary issues. School boards were the most common provider of professional development followed to a lesser extent by the school community, the Ministry/Department of Education, and Indigenous organizations.
The types of professional development most frequently cited by respondents were cultural teachings/school visit by an elder or knowledge keeper; a workshop on historical perspectives; and professional development related to integrating Aboriginal content into various subjects across the curriculum.
At least three quarters of teachers surveyed believe it would be important (“very” or “somewhat”) to acquire additional knowledge or skills training for each of the following seven issues examined pertaining to Aboriginal people in Canada. (Chart 3)
Chart 3. Level of importance teachers attribute to acquiring additional knowledge or skills training on various issues pertaining to Aboriginal people in Canada
Racism towards Aboriginal people
Half of the teachers surveyed believe that in general, over the last five years, the level of racial prejudice in their community toward Aboriginal people has remained the same. One quarter reported a decrease compared to 5% who indicated there was an increase over that time period. One in five respondents did not know. (Chart 4)
Over the last five years, one quarter of respondents report having witnessed what they would consider to be an example of racism against an Aboriginal person in their class or school.
Chart 4. Perceived change in racial prejudice toward Aboriginal people in the teachers’ community over the last five years