Time to address systemic inequities in schools
Curriculum must speak to Black youth, Jennifer R. Kelly, Bukola Salami, Jared Wesley and others write.
Black youth experience poor educational outcomes due to anti-black racism. A 2015 survey from the York Center for Research/tsb estimated that one in five Black students drop out of high school — double the rate of their white and other racialized peers. They are also more likely to be expelled and suspended from school, all of which contributes to poorer job prospects for Black youth.
This prompted the United Nations' Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent to call on Canada to implement a national strategy to address the “inordinately low” educational outcomes experienced by African-canadian children and youth.
To date, government action remains limited and antiBlack racism remains pervasive. It is time for political leaders to act.
As a collective of educators, researchers, and youth affiliated with the University of Alberta's Black Youth Mentorship and Leadership Program, we are well aware of the many factors contributing to poor outcomes among Black youth. Based on our research and personal experiences, the educational curriculum in Alberta is a primary site of concern for its lack of Black voices, history, and lived experiences.
The recent Alberta government Guiding Framework for K-12 curriculum offers little hope for improvement. In social studies curriculum, the Framework promotes perspectives rooted in
Europe and Ancient Greece, with only a passing reference to Black history and communities in Alberta or the rest of Canada. Similarly, in language arts classes, most of the coursework is centred on the “greatest enduring works,” which often hinder the acknowledgment of antiBlack racism. Many of these “enduring works,” have inherently racist “white saviour” undertones — a reflection of the societies and time period when such works were created. The Alberta government should heed its own advice that, “students are more motivated to learn when they value the subject and have a clear sense of purpose.”
Reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic has further reinforced the systemic inequities experienced by Black school youth. Beyond important concerns with unequal access to technology and parents with first-hand knowledge of the curriculum, Black students are further disadvantaged through remote teaching tools, like the digital proctoring of exams. To keep a virtual eye on students while they take tests, companies like Proctorio rely on facial-recognition technology. Calibrated for white skin, AI researchers have established that these tools incorrectly flag darker-skinned people as absent from exam rooms at a much higher rate.
There is a strong need to address these and other negative experiences of Black youth in the educational system. We recommend the following important next steps:
■ Infuse Black knowledge and lived experiences in the curriculum. This will provide a means for Black youth to appreciate their identity, boost their self-esteem, and increase their educational outcomes. This would include being aware of curriculum subject matter that promotes Eurocentric superiority through negative views of Black people.
■ Collect race-based data on educational outcomes of Black youth. Alberta, unlike Ontario and Quebec, has minimal statistical data on Black youth educational outcomes.
■ Increase the number of Black educators and educational administrators, both Francophone and anglophone.
■ Review zero-tolerance and discipline policies to ensure Black students are not being overly punished for reacting negatively to being taunted with slurs and hate speech.
■ Create online resources that can centralize volunteer work, summer programs, internships, and other meaningful activities to help Black students gain easier access to the opportunities they need to succeed.
■ Review automated proctoring programs and other education tools that rely on artificial intelligence for racial bias.
Recognizing and eradicating anti-black racism in the school system is an important step toward meeting Canada's enduring goal of becoming an increasingly equitable, diverse, and inclusive society.
This article was collectively written by Jewel Chidiebere, Jonathan Afowork, Sohaib Omar, Omatla Sedio, Mielere Ramadan, Jennifer Kelly, Bukola Salami, Jared Wesley and other members of the University of Alberta's Black Youth Mentorship and Leadership Program.