Nova Scotia committed to being an ally to Black, Indigenous students: education minister

One-on-one with Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill
WATCH: Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill joins Global News to discuss daycares reopening, working from home and how systemic racism can be addressed in classrooms.

Two years ago, international education consultant Avis Glaze presented Nova Scotia with a “Raise the Bar” report, outlining ways in which the province could improve trust and accountability of its education system.

In January 2019, Global News reported less than half of Glaze’s recommendations have been implemented or considered within the first year of the report’s release.

READ MORE: Recommendations for education accountability nowhere to be found a year after the Glaze Report

In an interview with Global News on Monday, Education Minister Zach Churchill said the COVID-19 pandemic has created an opportunity to reassess what’s working in the education system and what isn’t.

“One silver lining … is having a blended learning model,” Churchill says.

He says the combination of online classes and at-home learning has proven beneficial. One aspect of education, however, is harder to maintain from home — cultural and diverse learning.

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Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute CEO Sylvia Parris-Drummond says Black communities in the province have been disproportionally affected by COVID-19 in the education sector. 

Following the 2018 Glaze report, Nova Scotia hired an executive director of Mi’kmaw education and an executive director of African Nova Scotian education.

However, Churchill says “it’s not just about two people hired in the department, it’s about the whole system.”

Parris-Drummond believes the pandemic and recent Black Lives Matter movements provide an opportunity for more deliberate conversations about systemic racism and racial challenges in education.

READ MORE: Hundreds protest police brutality, systemic racism at Black Lives Matter rally in Truro

The Delmore institute is a collaborative partner with the province, working towards supporting African Nova Scotian learners.

From the perspective of the institute’s work, Parris-Drummond says there is still a lot do be done, something Churchill believes the department is putting a lot of effort into.

“[Education] is the absolute critical component to dealing with issues of racism in our society,” he says.

“A lot of the time those sentiments of racism and discrimination come from a position of ignorance. Our education system provides a great opportunity to break down some of those barriers.”

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Long-term care home visits resume in Nova Scotia
Long-term care home visits resume in Nova Scotia

Parris-Drummond says learning African Nova Scotian history is crucial to challenging racism, and building confidence in Black learners.

“Once we’re able, as a community, to know more about the authenticity of our history, heritage and contributions, we’ll, as they say, be taller in terms of the pride and knowledge,” she says.

“It will also help the folks who are in the system, to be able to have a better understanding about appropriateness of interaction.”

Last year, nearly 10,000 employees participated in professional development around culturally responsive pedagogy, Churchill says.

READ MORE: The New Reality: Nova Scotia students, parents left wondering what September will bring

A part of this training was identifying bias, being empathetic and understanding the circumstances students are coming from.

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He says more support staff for Mi’kmaw learners and African Nova Scotian learners have been hired.

“(It’s about) making sure we’re being allies to the Mi’kmaw and African Nova Scotian students, and any student that is dealing with these troubling issues in our schools,” he says.

Parris-Drummond believes the education system has a chance to invite those working directly within the community, to share their perspectives and help with policy review.

With that commitment, “all systems will be better for it,” she says.

— With files from Sarah Ritchie. Global News has also reached out Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey.