OTTAWA, Oct. 13, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Research from The Conference Board of Canada has found that curriculum reform can contribute to better academic outcomes for Indigenous students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Indigenous populations remain underrepresented in well-paying, skills-based STEM jobs. This is problematic as studies show that there is tremendous demand for jobs in STEM areas, and that demand is only going to grow in coming years.

New research by The Conference Board of Canada highlights a major reason for the lack of engagement in STEM subjects among indigenous students is because science, math and technology are largely taught from a Western perspective. Indigenous cultures and ways of understanding STEM subjects are often not effectively represented in current science curriculum. As a result, many Indigenous students have trouble relating and opt out of science and math classes once in high school.

“Curriculum reform is pivotal to improving educational outcomes for Indigenous students,” says Jane Cooper, Senior Research Associate for Indigenous and Northern Communities at The Conference Board of Canada. “Curriculum reforms need to address and incorporate the role of teachers to ensure the benefits are maximized. Currently, only a few faculties of education in Canada instruct teachers on how to incorporate Indigenous perspectives into math, science, and technology learning.”

The most recent Statistics Canada census found that nearly a quarter (24.8%) of Canada's university graduates now come from STEM training. And STEM has the fastest rate of job growth in Canada – 4.6% annual growth in STEM positions compared to 1.8% for the labour market as a whole. For Indigenous people, STEM is critical to their self-determination and economic growth. The National Indigenous Economic Development Board has estimated that missed opportunities—including a shortage of Indigenous STEM professionals— costs Canada nearly $30 billion a year in lost wages and productivity.

Indigenous sciences often use a qualitative, integrated approach that results in a holistic understanding of how-to live-in harmony with nature. This differs from the Eurocentric approach to understanding the natural environment that compartmentalizes phenomena and focuses on measurement, analysis, and control. Research shows that Indigenous students perform better when educators provide culturally responsive curriculum that combines Indigenous ways of knowing nature with Western scientific knowledge.

“Indigenous educators refer to this as Two-Eyed Seeing,” says Ms. Cooper. “It is a way of learning that leverages the strengths, perspectives, and knowledge of both Western and Indigenous cultures.”

Provincial and territorial governments recognize the lack of involvement among Indigenous students in STEM education. But efforts to reform curriculum and make it more culturally relevant are often undermined by a lack of cohesive, broad-based reforms across provincial/territorial jurisdictions.

The Conference Board report recommends that school boards and Ministries of Education partner with local communities to ensure that Indigenous perspectives used in the classroom are relevant. Context and culture vary across the country. Curriculum and teaching approaches should reflect this. Collaboration with Indigenous youth and leaders at the local level is important to ensuring STEM education is relevant to all participants.

This new, more collaborative approach that takes into account culturally relevant learning is needed for Indigenous students to view STEM education as appealing and accessible, and to ensure they benefit from the growing opportunities in these fields.

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About the Future Skills Centre
Future Skills Centre is a forward-thinking research and collaboration hub dedicated to preparing Canadians for employment success and meeting the emerging talent needs of employers. As a pan-Canadian community, FSC brings together experts and organizations across sectors to rigorously identify, assess, and share innovative approaches to develop the skills needed to drive prosperity and inclusion. FSC is directly involved in innovation through investments in pilot projects and academic research on the future of work and skills in Canada. The Future Skills Centre is funded by the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Program.

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