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Literacy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada: Three Converging Tales

In the past month or so, several bits of information have surfaced that relate to Aboriginal education in Canada. Today, International Literacy Day, Environics released a report discussing Canada's standing globally with respect to a wide variety of achievement data. Media coverage has highlighted the issue of Aboriginal education. Certainly, there may be critique of some of that data (and I am among those who are critical--see Blogposts below). However, what is of concern is that across a variety of measures, the report, authored by Andrew Parkin, says that educationally: "the position of Aboriginal peoples relative to non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada is not changing. In fact, because the educational attainment of non-Aboriginal Canadians continues to improve at a faster rate, the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples at the higher end of the education attainment spectrum is widening." Later, Parkin goes on to account for the success of Canadian education overall, attributing at least some of it to the way in which federalism in Canada allows for the redistribution of wealth across provinces which makes for fewer large discrepancies among provincial education spending that would be found in other countries that are federations.

The second piece of information that surfaced recently was the astonishing one billion dollars left unspent by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada this past year.

The third piece of information is a CBC story about the struggle early childhood centers in Nunavut are having in order to provide Inuktitut-language naterials for children to read. One center reports using English materials 80 to 90 percent of the time! While efforts are now underway to create a digital collection of materials such as games, songs and stories, even the efforts to digitize may not pay off as some early childhood centres in the north find the costs of paper and ink expensive. Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), Canada's national Inuit organization, which is leading the drive to collect the material hopes that their efforts will make "it easier, so that whatever's been developed in say Nunatsiavut is easily and readily available to those in Nunavik, Nunavut and the Inuvialuit."

Hmmmm--a redistribution of wealth "lightbulb moment" or perhaps the harmonic convergence of some disparate ideas? Stephen Krashen, a scholar in the field of second language learning and bilingualism, has singled out free voluntary reading as a key to literacy success, but, of course, it is difficult to engage in such reading if the materials are not available. If somehow, a fraction of that unspent money were diverted to helping Aboriginal peoples in their quest to provide Aboriginal first-language culturally-relevant reading material, maybe Environics could tell a different story in 20 years from now. We wait in hope!

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