Black educators and students in Montreal are calling for an overhaul of school curricula, in the province and across the country, to better incorporate issues pertaining to diverse communities.
Thirteen-year-old Grade 7 student Taneia Hinkson-Belone wants to see changes in how topics related to Black communities are taught in schools, and not limit those lessons to Black History Month.
“Firstly, we should be talking about these certain types of topics all year round,” she said.
She and other students also believe lessons on Black history should go beyond slavery and that more teachers should try to learn instead of shying away from certain topics.
“Like the movements that happened more recently, in the 1970s, ’60s,” Mary-Ivana Sackey, a 16-year-old Grade 11 student, said. “We don’t see anything like that about Black people.”
In a new study on pedagogy in Quebec, commissioned by the LaSalle Multicultural Resource Center, respondents complained that some of these topics are, indeed, avoided.
Now students, parents and educators are calling on governments and school authorities to address that and other issues of systemic racism in schools.
“Most educators are looking at the whole system through a Eurocentric lens, and it always baffles me when they talk about French and English, and they don’t talk about the Indigenous Peoples, they don’t talk about all the other contributors to this country,” Quebec Board of Black Educators president Alix Adrien told Global News.
Adrien, a former teacher, said these problems have existed for decades and that though there has been some progress, he feels excluded.
“We are always kept out of the decision-making process, we’re not consulted, and if we are, it’s like a show.”
Some students, though, are doing their part.
At Pierrefonds Community High School (PCHS) in Montreal’s Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough, for example, students created the Black Students Union (BSU) in 2021 to help push for the changes they want to see in the school.
“We’re just like a community that teaches, in a way,” said Awele Briggs, a 13-year-old member in Grade 8. “We do activities, we do field trips and hold assemblies.”
On Tuesday for the start of Black History Month, the group, with the help of teachers, organized a brief gathering of the school community and school board officials to raise the tri-colour Pan-African flag at the school.
Later this year they hope to organize a field trip with students and staff to Africville in Nova Scotia.
Officials at the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB), which governs the school, say they are taking steps to address systemic racism.
This comes after racist incidents at some of its schools in 2020 were widely reported and denounced. The board then launched a task force to look at the state of discrimination and inclusion in its schools.
“We need to look at what resources our teachers have, how can they bring more diversity into the classroom, how can they talk about bias and privilege and racism, and how can we take some steps to incorporate some of those conversations into our teaching and learning,” said Cindy Finn, director general at LBPSB.
She spoke of the need to organize training for teachers, and said there have been workshops to explore topics such as micro-aggressions, bias, privilege and white ideology.
Students Global News spoke to say they are optimistic that there will be meaningful change in time.