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25.03.2005 Education

Educational Change And Inclusivity-The Debate Goes On!

By Joe Kingsley Eyiah, Teacher, Brookview Middle School-Toronto

Advocates of Inclusive Education, in which cultural minorities and especially African immigrant students are given the opportunity to study their cultural values and experiences at school, claim that the Canadian school system despite the changes it has undergone over the years has failed to accept difference as part of the innovations. One of such advocates who is a Ghanaian-born professor at the University of Toronto, Dr. George Dei has even called for “Black-Focus” Schools in Ontario to improve the education system for minorities, especially immigrant students with African/Caribbean background.

The Call for Change: The call for a change in the management of education is one of the current responses to the contemporary assessment of schools as institutions that are failing their mandate (Bimber, 1993, 1994). The loss of faith in the education system is common in both the developed and developing countries. This has initiated education reforms around the world. The trend in restructuring of the education system has led some to describe it as a global phenomenon (see Whitty, Power & Halpin, 1998). In some instances the restructuring has been harsh. The consequences are unintended. For example, the 1998 education reforms introduced in Ontario, Canada by the Tory government were described as harsh in the cuts of funding to district school boards. The most affected were inner-city school boards like the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). Thus, the reforms have impacted on the ability of the board to run programs for its community. One such program was the adult high school program which many adult immigrants to Canada depend on to get a diploma and better their lives. Also the ESL program for immigrant students newly arrived in Canada suffered greatly from the reforms. Reform is not putting in place the latest policy. It means changing the cultures of the classrooms, the schools, the districts, the universities and so on. There is much more to educational reform than most people realize (Fullan, 1991, p. xiii) According to Paul Oliver (1996) arguably, it is not change itself, which is undesirable. The challenge is to identify the correct changes to make, and then, importantly, to implement them in a humanistic and sensitive manner (page 7). From this it could be argued that changes in educational policies should be sensitive to the needs of the people. Unfortunately, this seems not to be the case in Ontario. While cost-effectiveness has been used as the basis for changes made in education in the province, inclusivity of the curriculum has been overlooked. The curriculum that was introduced in the province's classrooms in 1997 though considered to be “very rigorous, very advanced and of higher standards” failed to make connections to the backgrounds of the minority student.

New Curriculum: The Ontario government considers the new curriculum the centerpiece of the province's education reform. The new curriculum, province-wide testing, standardized report cards and new teaching standards were ushered in to ensure Ontario students get a high-quality education. Perhaps, Ontario students referred to by the government do not include the new immigrant students to the province! The backgrounds of such students have no place in Ontario's new curriculum because the curriculum is NOT inclusive enough. It does not therefore encourage personal growth and fails to empower new immigrant students to make positive social change in their new environment. Also, the cuts in education funding in Ontario as part of the education reform have adversely affected the ESL (English as Second Language) and Adult Day School programs which meet the needs of immigrant students. The ever-increasing numbers of school dropouts among immigrant populations (the Ghanaian community inclusive) in Ontario pose a big on the inclusivity of the new curriculum.

Racism in Education? Institutional racism entails the setting up of policies and practices that actually deny or restrict individuals on the basis of their skin colour, race, gender or sexuality, ethnic grouping and religion in acquiring the needed skills and qualifications to participate fully and equally in the social, political and economic life of society. It refers to inequalities rooted in the system-wide operation of a society that excludes substantial numbers of members of particular ethnic groups from significant participation in its major social institutions. What is at issue here is.... the question of access of members of particular ethnic groups to the very qualifications (skills, resources) required by the majority group or groups for full participation in the life of the society. (Samuda and Tinglin, 1978:40). Discrimination occurs if the minority group is expected to meet different criteria for opportunity than the majority group for reasons that have no bearing on their ability to function successfully. This is unequal treatment that amounts to racial discrimination for it impairs the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of the rights, responsibilities and fundamental freedoms of visible minorities in the political, economic, social cultural or any other field of social life. Immigrant students are been discriminated against by the very content of the Ontario school curriculum and, by government funding of education in the province as already discussed above.

Conclusion: The issue of inclusivity is crucial to educational change. The government of Ontario has turned a deaf ear to Advocates of Inclusive Education, in which cultural minorities and especially African immigrant students are given the opportunity to study their cultural values and experiences at school.

The hope that this trend will change with the Tory government off the scene appeared shuttered with the “non-performance” of McGuinty's Liberal government on revamping the education system in Ontario. Teachers in the province who hailed the arrival of the Liberal government are now in work-to-rule action against the non-performance of the government. Well, will the Premier McGuinty see reason in the many calls from the public to him as the new Premier to reconsider the education and health care reforms in the province?

I add my voice to that of the advocates of inclusive education and call on the Ontario government to make educational change more meaningful to the minorities whose contribution to the building of the Ontario province can no longer be underestimated or overlooked. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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