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UBC Reports | Vol. 51 | No. 10 | Oct. 6, 2005

Indigenous Teacher Education Planned for Okanagan

By Bud Mortenson

They’ve gathered input from indigenous education experts in New Zealand, Australia, Labrador, and B.C.’s Okanagan Nation. Now two members of UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Education are ready for the next step.

Program co-developers Sharon McCoubrey and Wendy Klassen are working on an Okanagan-grown Aboriginal teacher education program.

UBC has prepared Aboriginal teachers through the Native Indian Teacher Education Program (NITEP) for more than 30 years. The Okanagan program is a separate initiative that had its start at the former Okanagan University College. Development continues at UBC Okanagan in partnership with the Okanagan Indian Educational Resources Society’s post-secondary institution, the En’Owkin Centre in Penticton, to prepare aboriginal teachers for teacher certification.

Over the past year and a half, McCoubrey and Klassen have traveled Canada and the Pacific researching indigenous education models. Klassen recalls a visit last year to Geelong, near Melbourne, Australia, where an Aboriginal teacher education program has students spending a lot more time at home than on campus.

“The Aboriginal students go back to their homes and do their practica and some coursework in their own communities,” she says. “They are only on site every two months for a week or two on campus.”

Learning at home means education students are doing more than preparing themselves to become teachers. “We are not only training Aboriginal students to be teachers. They are involving their own community in their learning,” says Klassen.

They’ve also determined through their research that indigenous languages need a higher profile in teacher education programs, at home and abroad.

“The more we’ve looked around the world, the more it has become clear that language is very important,” says McCoubrey. The vision for the Okanagan program is to offer teacher education common to all participants, and language components that link into language education in the home region of each student.

This special integration of indigenous languages, the possibility of practica in First Nations schools, plus a mix of on- and off-campus study will differentiate the Okanagan program from those offered elsewhere.

The program has a strong supporter in Bill Cohen, UBC Okanagan associate professor of indigenous studies. Cohen is a member of the Okanagan Band and was education director for the En’Owkin Centre before becoming the first faculty member of the Indigenous Studies program at Okanagan University College in 2002.

Cohen was involved early on in exploring an aboriginal teacher education program. Currently, he is completing a doctorate in education at UBC, working on an Okanagan pedagogical framework for an Okanagan cultural immersion school. In January, he’ll lead indigenous studies seminars for the UBC Okanagan teacher education program.

“The seminars engage students in indigenous methods for building community, inclusive and respectful of diversity and difference -- looking at what informs attitudes, perceptions, and teaching practices,” he says.

One of the issues an Okanagan-based indigenous teacher education program may help address is the scarcity of culturally and geographically relevant indigenous people’s content in schools.

In a study of the education experiences of Okanagan Nation students, coordinated by Cohen on behalf the En’owkin Centre and all Okanagan Nation Bands, it became clear that Okanagan peoples’ knowledge, culture and history have been lacking in the classroom.

“What was taught was not relevant to students’ lives, experiences or personal histories and identities,” Cohen says. “There was no content that connected them. Okanagan students were, and are, in their own homeland, and there was nothing about the Okanagan peoples’ history, culture or knowledge, and it doesn’t leave a good feeling.

“Okanagan students did not, and do not, feel loved or cared for by the school system, and the sad statistics concerning academic underachievement, dropout, and graduation rates are reflections of this.”

The Okanagan indigenous teacher education program will be part of the solution, Cohen believes.

“We are promoting an indigenous teacher education program for the Okanagan informed by Okanagan pedagogy, and traditional ways of teaching and learning -- not just in the classroom, but at home, in the extended family and community, and the territorial ecology,” he says.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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