Poll: Students split on mandatory indigenous studies course

By Julia Mastroianni

Students at Ryerson University are divided on whether Ryerson should implement a mandatory course on indigenous culture in Canada.

In a poll conducted by the Ryerson School of Journalism, out of 897 students, 35.6 per cent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that Ryerson should implement a mandatory course on indigenous culture. While 29.6 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed, 34.8 per cent of students were neutral.

Essential learning for students

Duncan McCue, who is the Rogers Visiting Journalist at Ryerson and reports on indigenous issues for the CBC, said Canadians don’t have the historical base that they need to understand the treatment of indigenous peoples in Canada.

“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was very, very clear that reconciliation is not going to happen unless the academy, that being post-secondary institutions, start sharing the history of what happened in this country with all students.”

The commission, part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement — the main goal of which is informing Canadians about what happened in residential schools — produced a document detailing, among other items, calls to action for post-secondary institutions to require education for students on the history of Aboriginal Peoples.

Story continues below infographic.

The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Jacqueline Romanow, chair of indigenous studies at the University of Winnipeg, helped implement a mandatory course on indigenous culture this year. She said the impact of implementing the course has been most strongly felt in her program.

“In the 2015-2016 year, our enrolment in those courses was 55 students. This year, enrolment has risen to 770 students.”

She said students “now understand what’s going on better, and have a bit more sympathy to the challenges indigenous people face.”

Among Ryerson students, two out of five respondents rated their knowledge of history and current issues facing the indigenous population as a one or two out of five, with one being “remedial” and five being “deeply knowledgeable.” Only 4.4 per cent of respondents rated their knowledge a five.

Major drawback of mandatory teaching

Though McCue agrees that it is critical to educate all students in Canada about indigenous issues, he doesn’t think a mandatory course is the way to do it.

“It can create a very difficult learning environment for all students” when a portion of students aren’t interested, McCue said.

Parul Verma, first-year nutrition and food student at Ryerson, also thinks a mandatory course won’t work for uninterested students.

“If you don’t really want to take that mandatory course, you’ll just be against the idea of what you’re learning and the feeling of being against it will grow.”

McCue’s solution is to weave indigenous culture and history into the general curriculum in pieces: “So if you’re taking a Canadian literature class then there should be indigenous authors in the canon, if you’re taking a biology course, then there should be a section on indigenous world views for science.”

McCue said the post-secondary level is a challenging place to force students to learn something they don’t want to learn. He suggests mandatory courses at the high school level may be more helpful.

The survey at Ryerson University was a randomized poll, conducted person-to-person from March 3-7, 2017. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

 

The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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