A New Vision in Education – First Nations and French Language

Doug Graham, MLA for Porter Creek North

Letter to the Editor – Whitehorse Star, as submitted on Friday, September 11th, 2015
by Doug Graham, Minister of Education

With the change in the seasons and students getting back into the routine of going to school, it can be easy to forget the real purpose of education. We can all relate to — and may very well have been — that sleepy son or daughter who bemoans the sound of the morning alarm and wonders what it is all about. Getting lunches ready, sports equipment organized and dance lesson schedules sorted can leave parents breathless enough – without time to think about how education can change the world.

I take great pleasure in working as Minister of Education helping Yukon students and teachers strive for and achieve excellence within our education system. This means being concerned about everything from the physical buildings themselves and the ratio of teachers to students to the philosophy behind our curriculum.

You may have heard Premier Pasloski speak about our vision for education in his budget address last April. He said that our most important job as leaders today is to prepare the leaders of tomorrow. While the world is full of factors beyond our control we can strive to ensure that our children get the best education possible.

We are working to improve our curriculum so that it reflects the different aspirations of our diverse student body. It must also become more Yukon-centric. For although we do share much with our friends and neighbours in British Columbia, we are not them.

The improvements we are proposing require the input of Yukoners. To enact our vision, we are engaging with students, parents, teachers, school councils, First Nations, and other community and industry experts. This kind of engagement is not new to us. We have long been working in concert to improve and strengthen our education system. I would like to offer you two examples.

First, Yukoners may recall the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action that was released this past summer. In it, some 94 recommendations were brought forward. One of these recommendations was for governments to develop appropriate curriculum on residential schools. In the Yukon, we are already much further along this path than other jurisdictions in Canada. Our grade 10 Residential Schools Social Studies Unit, developed in partnership with former residential school students and Elders, is being studied with interest in the other provinces and territories. And we continue to look for ways to make improvements.

Another example of following through on our commitment to Yukon learners is our enhancement of the French immersion program. Fifteen youngsters began their education in their second official language this September as classes got underway at Selkirk Elementary School. Our government is currently developing a long-term plan for the delivery of French immersion education in Yukon and will be engaging with parents on the future of the program during the 2015/16 school year.

Looked at in isolation, the use of a Residential School curriculum and addition of French immersion classes may not seem like developments in “changing the world.” But they are. Developments and improvements like these enrich and inform the worldviews of our Yukon learners, equipping them for leadership in whatever path they take.