With the recent budget announcement came changes to Alberta Education’s business plan and what was goal #3 “Success for First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Students” has now been embedded with goal #2 “Success for Every Student.” Along with the new goal and direction, are the ever present reminders at the “achievement gap” between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students and goals to reducing the disparity between the two groups. Are these goals realistic, modest, or just writings in the sand?
Recently Dr Allan Luke spoke at the University of Calgary on the topic of “White Systems, Deficit Talk and Indigenous School Reform: A Glimmer at the End of the Tunnel” using his work as a part of multidisciplinary, mixed-race research team working on an evaluation of the largest scale intervention in Indigenous school reform in Australia. His message was not about the proverbial gap, programs, increasing attendance or engagement as they discovered in their work that none of these reforms help Aboriginal students graduate high school.
What does work to improve graduation rates is systemic reform from a deficit model to a strengths based model. The strengths based approach is nothing new and makes perfect sense: see our students for who they can be not what they are not achieving. For many of our marginalized students they know far too well what they cannot do, they experience this daily. Their classrooms should be the place where they are encouraged to over come barriers with the support of caring adults that are connecting education to a successful future.
Dr Allan Luke suggests that for Aboriginal students to reach success like their non-Aboriginal classmates, their teachers need to see them as having potential for success, not self-fulling a destiny of failure, and a system that functions on a deficit model makes this very difficult. Paradigm shifts can be challenging to traditional ways of doing, however, we only need to look to the statistics for our Aboriginal students to see that the current reality is not working.
Too often the focus is on weaknesses and how we can support the weakness to meet other student’s standards but this does not honour diversity or create a positive niche for all students. Digging for unrecognized strengths and celebrating diversity within a systemic paradigm shift is the direction that we need to take. With Alberta Educations shift to “Success for Every Student” and other initiatives involving policy changes, we are perhaps in the midst of the paradigm shift from a deficit based way of teaching to a strengths based way of sharing a journey will all our students and families.