Earlier this summer, the province announced it will launch an equity assessment to identify and remove systemic barriers in education for students of African Nova Scotian and Indigenous descent.
However, parents and Black educators say that needs to start with representation in the classrooms and curriculum.
Jessica Quillan is the mother of two Black children who both attend school in Dartmouth. Her daughter is in elementary school and her son is in junior high. Although they do have several Black peers, there are no Black teachers at either of their schools.
“It makes it difficult for them to connect with anybody in their school. They often bring issues home that could have been dealt with in their school had they had somebody that they felt comfortable with, that they could talk to, that look like them,” said Quillan.
Quillan says she has seen hardly any changes since she went through the Nova Scotia school system years ago.
“Myself, personally, went to school in Dartmouth my whole life and I had one Black teacher and it wasn’t until I was in high school. And by then, you’ve already developed your own sense of belonging, which isn’t inclusive of your culture,” she said.
Disparities in the educational system can create barriers to a student’s success and affect their well-being and sense of belonging, which, in the long run, can cause students to become disengaged.
Sylvia Parris-Drummond is the CEO of Delmore Buddy Daye Learning Institute, a not-for-profit organization that helps Black learners succeed through scholastic opportunities and addressing educational equity gaps for communities of African ancestry in Nova Scotia.
The Africentric institute works directly with other African Nova Scotian and Canadian organizations, policymakers, educators, parents and schools to improve outcomes for local learners of African descent.
“You need to look deeply into your assumed practices, your written practices and policies and say, ‘What is keeping people out and what is not fully inviting them in?’ she said.
“We haven’t had a system that embraces the research that tells us about effective, instructional practices that tells us about the importance of full community engagement.”
Every year, Parris-Drummond says she still hears of people in the community dropping out of high school and even post-secondary institutions because they feel as though they are not respected, not adequately represented or under-valued.
Even Quillan’s son feels as though he has to put his own culture on the back burner oftentimes.
“When you are going to school, you are going there to learn things that are exciting and important. When you’re learning about the same things all the time, year in and year out, that have nothing to do with your interests, nothing to do with your everyday lifestyle, it’s discouraging and it makes you not want to be there,” said Quillan.
Parris-Drummond says even since she was a student, years before Quillan, there has been no real change.
“It is unfortunate to say not enough significant, substantive, impactful change. If you think that we’re still having debates about how we offer opportunities for teachers to learn and grow around anti-Black racism that has a policy connect,” she said.
She is astonished at the fact that in the 21st century, we are still having these types of discussions.
“It’s tragic. I mean, I have examples of things that go back to when I was in public school and it’s still being experienced today. So not the full telling of contributions of our communities in various areas — the No. 2 Construction Black Battalion, their contributions in terms of the war. Understanding in terms of how we are able to contribute from having elders in our classrooms and being involved, so understanding the community aspect in that,” she said.
With the provincial election right around the corner, the three major parties in the campaign say they are committed to making equitable change and are making the issue part of their platforms.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill says if elected, his party will do whatever it can to support and improve education for African Nova Scotians.
Tim Houston, the leader of the Progressive Conservatives, says a PC government will revamp the curriculum so that every child in Nova Scotia knows they belong.
Iain Rankin said if the Liberals are re-elected they will conduct an equity assessment to address systemic barriers affecting students who are African Nova Scotian or Indigenous.
Parris-Drummond and Quillan have similar sentiments about what needs to be done to ensure success for Black students and say it’s really not that complex.
“I know the information is out there if the right people are higher up within the department, change can happen,” said Quillan. “You have to have representation on all levels of government before they can implement rules, implement strategies and policies to impact everybody in this province.
“The information is out there they just need to have somebody passionate enough on the top to look at it and implement it. And with an election coming right now, it should be the focus on everybody’s mind. Because we want people stay in the province, to be safe here and be educated here.”