Two men ice fishing and removing a fish from a net, Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories in an undated photo by BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Earlier this month, Canadian outreach organization Actua held a series of roundtable discussions aimed at expanding the Canadian science curriculum to include Indigenous land-based learning, the Toronto Star reports. Doug Dokis, a member of Anishinabek Nation and the director of Actua’s  InSTEM (Indigenous Youth In STEM) program told The Toronto Star it’s the “perfect time” for Canadian school boards to explore outdoor classrooms, given the restrictions that are currently in place due to COVID-19.

“Kids like to play. They’re very inquisitive and they like the outdoors,” Dokis said.

“Teachers have been telling us for years that they want to bring this into the school. It’s systemic change that we’re looking for. And then all kids can benefit — not just Indigenous kids, but all benefit from this type of learning model.”

InSTEM is a national operation founded 20 years ago to expose Indigenous youth to STEM and to improve graduation rates. According to the Actua website, the program works with more than 35,000 Indigenous youth annually in 200 Indigenous communities.

Several STEM fields — including engineering, botany, astronomy, physics, and medicine are influenced by Indigenous knowledge, Dokis says, and incorporating this knowledge into the school system creates a sense of pride and community that could spur more interest in STEM.

Currently, Canada’s Indigenous workforce comprises around 4 per cent of the country’s total population, but less than 2 per cent of its STEM workforce, according to the Conference Board of Canada.

TEACHERS SAY CANADIAN STEM CURRICULUM NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

In late September, Actua released the results of a national survey of 507 grades 1-9 teachers. According to the report, 94 per cent of the participants said “there is room to improve” their STEM skills, and more than half said they did not have the confidence to teach digital and technology skills. 

Time, cost, and a lack of opportunities were cited as barriers for improving their abilities, hurdles that were acknowledged by Kelsey Wrightson, executive director of The NWTs Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning and a participant in the recent roundtable discussions.

“The best land-based programs really involve and reflect the strengths of the Indigenous communities that we’re partnering with and working with,” Wrightson said in an interview with Cabin Radio.

“That usually takes a really long time, to develop the relationships to be able to create a program that does that.” 

But Wrightson says there is value in making the change, as land-based learning can promote success in a broad range of studies. Adding Indigenous knowledge to STEM learning will also widely expose valuable knowledge that has long been ignored by Canadian education systems.

Systemic racism has devalued Indigenous knowledge since colonization,” Wrightson told Cabin Radio.

“I think education systems are still grappling with that legacy, and are still working hard, and have a lot of work to do to better reflect the values of traditional knowledge and Indigenous knowledge in education systems today.” 


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