Native Language and Culture in Ontario Schools
The Ontario government is committed to excellence in public education for Indigenous students. This position is reflected in the government’s new approach towards Aboriginal Affairs released in January 2007 dubbed; the First Nation, Metis and Inuit Education Policy Framework (PDF).
The approach envisioned a prosperous future for aboriginal communities and youth as a whole. While acting on this commitment, the government, through the Ministry of Education, identified aboriginal education as a key area to focus on.
Key areas of interest included improving achievements of Aboriginal students as well as closing the literacy and numeracy gap. The government also aims to improve the school retention, graduation and school advancement rate gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students.
To achieve this goal, the government increased its investment in aboriginal education significantly. The investment now stands at $22.7 million for new resources and funding school boards to implement Native Language and Culture Studies courses as well as fund programs supporting Aboriginal students.
The government’s support for aboriginal education benefits all Ontario students. All students have the opportunity to learn any one of the languages (i.e. Cree, Cayuga, Mohawk, Delaware, Oji-Cree, Ojibwe, Oneida) offered in the Ontario Curriculum for native languages. Each school board chooses the language based on the language spoken in nearby communities. Our board teachers Ojibwe.
Students also have the opportunity to learn aboriginal history and culture. Perspectives are also woven into numerous areas of the curriculum.
Native Language Programs: Grades 1 - 8
Grade 1 - 8 students who choose to take Native Language Program have the opportunity to:
- Develop a general understanding of the function as well as nature of language which forms a basis for developing native language skills.
- Develop a firm foundation of native language knowledge and skills which are crucial in helping students communicate effectively in native languages.
- Understand and appreciate native languages. One of the primary goals of the native language initiative is inspiring Indigenous students to take pride in their ancestral language.
The program also focuses on helping non-native students understand and appreciate native language as well as use it, if possible.
Why are Native Languages Important in the Curriculum?
Native languages are important in the curriculum because they carry the spirit, history, culture as well as the philosophy of a people. Native languages reveal how people think, their values, and their unique attitudes. Furthermore, they are the principle means in which people's culture is preserved and transmitted through generations.
In some areas of Ontario, youth no longer understand, let alone speak their ancestral language. First Nation communities have expressed concerns that their cultures and languages are at risk of being lost.
This is one of the main reasons why native language programs are important in Ontario schools. Including native languages in the curriculum is an excellent way of reclaiming as well as revitalizing native languages.
Furthermore, the programs are for both Native and non-Native students who are keen on learning and enjoying benefits of cross-cultural studies.
For instance, all students have the chance of expanding, as well as, enriching their views of a culture, as well as, the world as a whole when studying a second language and culture. Students also develop deeper appreciation and respect for rights, identity and other people’s beliefs and values.
Key Policies Guiding Native Language Programs
- School boards can choose how to design their native language programs i.e. the entry level (if students enter the programs at Grade 1 or Grade 4). However, boards must ensure students have the opportunity to achieve all expectations if they start learning later i.e. at Grade 4.
- Native language programs must be offered during school days.
- Native language lessons should take at least 20 minutes every day for students in Grade 1 to 3 and at least 40 minutes for students in Grades 4 - 8.
- School boards are expected to offer programs throughout (to the end of secondary school) if they choose to offer native language programs at an elementary level.
- The programs can be offered in Cree, Cayuga, Mohawk, Delaware, Oji-Cree, Ojibwe or Oneida. Our school board offers Ojibwe language and culture instruction since that is the language in our district.
Curriculum Expectation and Achievement Levels
Ontario Native Language Curriculum (PDF), have expectations clearly defined for each grade. The expectations define the knowledge as well as skills (fundamental to native language and culture) that students need to develop on which their overall achievement is assessed.
The knowledge and skills remain almost similar, or vary in terms of difficulty, from one grade to another based on specific expectations in regards to language use i.e. listening and speaking, reading and writing to gauge the depth of learning, level of complexity, type of skill, etc. Curriculum expectations are designed to guide teachers, as opposed to exhaust them, as is the case with mandatory lists.
Student achievement in native language programs is reported in percentage marks or letter grades on a report card.
Achievement levels focus on:
- reading comprehension,
- application of language knowledge,
- organization of ideas,
- as well as cultural knowledge and understanding.
Teachers can discuss what students need to do to meet the expectations for their grade when reporting achievement to students, as well as their parents.
Summary of the Achievement Levels
Level 4: This level identifies achievement that surpasses the standard. Level 4 demonstrates that a student has a greater command of the native language knowledge and skills required of a student at that level.
Level 3 (provincial standard): Identifies high levels of achievement based on provincial expectations. Students who achieve at this level are ready to tackle expectations in the next level.
Level 2: This level identifies achievement that is close to standard.
Level 1: This level identifies achievement that falls below the provincial standard.
How are Native Language Programs Planned?
Grade 1 to 3: Early grades focus on the development of language skills via oral communication. Classroom instructions focus on students’ listening and speaking skills.
Grade 4 to 8: In Grades 4 to 8, students have already developed language skills so most of the classroom instructions focus on reading and writing skills. There is, however, some emphasis on oral communication, although not as much as is the case in Grades 1 to 3.
There is also a special emphasis on native oral tradition.
It's also important to note that teachers plan programs and learning experiences with assistance from Native speakers in the community.
Programs include native stories, histories, legends and traditional songs. Learning activities include native culture and philosophy so that students get an opportunity to experience native culture and values firsthand as part of the language being studied.
The role of Parents and Caregivers
Parents and caregivers have a role to play in their children's native language education. Parents are responsible for supporting their children learning native languages even if they don’t understand or speak the language.
Parents are also required to familiarize themselves with curriculum basics to be able to have knowledge of the expectations per grade.
Basic knowledge of the curriculum is also important because it helps parents access their children’s progress (interpret report cards accurately) as well as work in conjunction with teachers to improve their child’s performance.
- We invite parents to get involved in the Indigenous Education Advisory Committee.
For instance, a parent who shows interest in their child’s progress in native language studies and provides their child with support.
The government’s support for native language programs benefits all Ontario students. Non-native students have the opportunity to learn native languages as well as aboriginal history, culture, and perspectives which are woven into various areas of the curriculum.
Also, Native students get a chance to take pride in their ancestral language. The programs are bound to improve student achievement, as well as, close the gap between Native and non-Native students in regards to literacy, numeracy, student retention, graduation rates and student advancement.
Although it's not a must for students to take Native Language Programs in Ontario, it is highly recommended.
Students in our school choose to enrol in French Language and Culture or Native Language and Culture.
Initiative Contact: Jody Weller