BC Ministry of Education is implementing a new graduation requirement that will require all secondary school students to complete Indigenous-focused coursework before they graduate.
In School District 47 (SD47), district principal of Indigenous education Jessica Johnson believes the time is now to build a solid foundational understanding of Indigenous perspectives and ways of knowing.
“When I went to school, I didn’t learn much about Indigenous peoples, history, or culture, and what I did learn was often biased, discriminatory, or wrong,” said Johnson.
She said the hope is that exposing students to Indigenous principles of learning and content will build a level of understanding that will contribute to improvement in Indigenous student success, and empathy and understanding for those living in the greater qathet region.
Director of instruction Allison Burt said the ministry’s addition of an Indigenous-focused course aligns with recommendations from the district’s Equity in Action team and the actions that SD47 has already taken. This includes introduction of English First Peoples 10 as part of every student’s graduation program next school year, said Burt. The course is designed for students of all backgrounds and an important contribution to reconciliation for all by building greater understanding of the skills, knowledge and perspectives of First Peoples, she added.
It is equivalent to all other English language arts courses required for graduation and meets all postsecondary entrance requirements.
“We are excited to offer this course to students and know that our students and community will benefit,” said Burt.
According to Johnson, the qathet region is rich in story and history, with Tla’amin Nation caring for and occupying these lands for at least the last 8,000 years. Tla’amin is also one of the few treaty nations within what is now known as BC.
“Our vision is to enrich the English First Peoples 10 course with knowledge keepers,” said Johnson. “Tla’amin’s voice and perspective are essential, and we are working with the nation to support the delivery of this course.”
According to a ministry of education media release, expected to take effect in the 2023/2024 school year, the requirement will ensure all secondary students complete Indigenous-focused coursework before they graduate from BC’s kindergarten to grade 12 education system.
“We are deeply committed to lasting and meaningful reconciliation in BC, guided by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, while working cooperatively with Indigenous peoples across the province to address the knowledge gaps in our K-12 curriculum,” stated minister of education Jennifer Whiteside. “This new requirement will deepen students’ understanding of the experiences, cultures, histories and knowledge of Indigenous peoples. This will help us to understand the truths of our shared history, while also building knowledge so all students feel a sense of responsibility for our collective future.”
Under the proposed model, students who are currently in grade 10 would be the first group to complete this new requirement, starting in September 2023, so School District 47 is a year ahead of the provincial mandate. According to the media release, BC is the first Canadian province/jurisdiction to implement this type of requirement.
The new Indigenous-focused course requirement is one of the actions identified in BC’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act Draft Action Plan, as part of a broader Indigenous-specific anti-racism and discrimination strategy for the K-12 system, on which First Nations were consulted in 2021, according to the release.