Calgary Herald

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.

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