In order to improve educational outcomes for Indigenous youths and racialized newcomer, refugee and immigrant students, they need to see themselves better reflected in the curriculum and staff in all positions within the public education system.

Opinion

In order to improve educational outcomes for Indigenous youths and racialized newcomer, refugee and immigrant students, they need to see themselves better reflected in the curriculum and staff in all positions within the public education system.

The gap that exists between the number of public school teachers who are Indigenous or from racialized communities and the student population they serve is not unique to our community. It is a structural issue faced by school divisions across Canada and the United States.

In Manitoba, there is limited student and teacher disaggregated data available to equity-seeking groups. The 2020 State of Equity in Education Report, prepared by the Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle, was able to cross-reference the data from the Manitoba Indigenous Teacher Education Survey (MITES) and the Indigenous Self-Identification in Manitoba Schools Report to identify an underrepresentation of 600 Indigenous teachers in the six school divisions in the city of Winnipeg.

However, because the last published MITES Report was done in 2013, this data is outdated.

The 2020 State of Equity in Education Report by the Newcomers Education Coalition was not able to document the issue of teacher representation in Winnipeg schools, because equity-based data that is disaggregated for racialized newcomer, refugee or immigrant students and teachers is not collected by the provincial government or school divisions.

While equity-based data is not well documented in Canada, the federal department of education in the United States publishes a Characteristics of Public and Private Elementary and Secondary School Teachers report every two years. The most recent report, published in 2020, indicated that in the United States, 79 per cent of teachers are white; 77 per cent of teachers are female; seven per cent of teachers are black; and two per cent of teachers are black males.

The report identifies a significant gap in teacher workforce representation and the students being served, as 53 per cent of students are persons of colour.

This structural inequity requires a long-term sustained approach in order to authentically address the systemic issues related to teacher workforce representation.

In the Canadian context, in June 2020 the Ontario provincial government took over running the Peal District School Board (PDSB), the second-largest school division in the country, in response to the school board’s inability to address issues of systemic racism identified in the external provincial review of the school district.

The review highlighted the essential role of employment equity policy and programs. The report stated, “A detailed Employment Systems Review (ESR) is an irreplaceable best practice used to ferret out barriers to equity in workplace cultures, policies, procedures and practices. Indeed, without a thorough ESR, it is difficult to understand how the Board of Trustees can properly establish accountabilities, goals and timelines necessary to conduct fair and transparent equity hiring.”

Third-party independent reviews of the financial operations of non-profit and publicly funded organizations through annual financial audits are recognized as standard practice for good governance, accountability and transparency. Equity audits and employment systems reviews provide this best-practice stewardship function for an organization’s human-resource operations.

Without a third-party independent review that develops feedback from various vantages within and outside an organization, school boards and senior management will have blind spots and “won’t know what they do not know,” especially regarding employment equity-related issues.

Equity Matters is calling for the development of an Education Equity Secretariat within the provincial government and school district-based education equity offices. These types of organizational structures will provide a sustained intervention to deal with education equity and representation issues involving the public-school workforce.

As well, they will play a critical role in addressing student equity-related issues regarding the experience of Indigenous and racialized students with suspensions, absenteeism, high school graduation rates, credit accumulation, representation in applied and academic courses, and representation in special-needs programs.

Suni Matthews and Crystal Laborero are co-chairs of Equity Matters.

On Dec. 9, Equity Matters is hosting a virtual townhall on the “Role of a Provincial Education Equity Secretariat and School District-Based Education Equity Offices.” Patrick Case, Ontario’s assistant deputy minister of education and chief equity officer of the provincial Education Equity Secretariat, will share his lengthy experience in the field of equity-based education, including lessons learned and promising practices. To register for this event go to equitymattersmb.ca.