In the mid 1970s a group of African Canadians met to discuss the education of the community’s children (It takes a village to raise a child.) Many of these community members had come from the Caribbean to study at Canadian post secondary institutions and settled here to raise families. Their children were attending schools at the Toronto Board of Education (TBE) and there was some concern about the quality of education their children were receiving. These community members contributed to the findings of the Board’s Workgroup on Multiculturalism, Race Relations and Heritage Languages which submitted its Final Report in 1976. The finding of the Final Report of the Workgroup on Multiculturalism, Race Relations and Heritage Languages helped to facilitate the institution of the Black Cultural Program at the Toronto Board of Education in 1977. In 1977, the Ontario Ministry of Education released a memorandum which read in part: “The Ministry of Education will implement a Heritage Languages Program to be effective as of July 1, 1977. For the purposes of this program, a heritage language is any language other than the two official languages of Canada.”
On May 10, 1980 a conference on Education for Parents of Black Children was held at Oakwood Collegiate which was attended by more than 500 people. People who attended the conference were concerned about the exclusion of information about Africans in the textbooks their children were using in school. In November 1985 representatives of the OPBC met with the Associate Director of Education at the TBE and identified concerns including the high drop-out rate, low self esteem, the persistent invisibility of African history and culture within the curriculum, streaming of African Canadian students and the persistent ignorance of teachers about African history and culture.
In 1982, after a year of battling with the Toronto Teachers’ Federation, the Toronto Board of Education (TBE) adopted a policy that allowed elementary schools to extend the school day by 30 minutes for heritage language instruction. The Toronto Teachers’ Federation was against the extension of the school day to teach the Heritage Languages Program. The Federation and the Board eventually agreed to binding arbitration to resolve the issue. In June 1986 the arbitration board in a 28 page decision found that the TBE could rightfully extend the school day by 30 minutes in schools where a majority of parents requested that model. The arbitration board also expressed that: “Giving heritage programs prime time during the school day serves to erode and diminish the alienation that ethnic communities feel towards one of our most important institutions. Moreover in our view, the teaching of the heritage language after school serves to segregate and ghettoize elementary school children. The new-found respect and rapport that immigrant and refugee families find in an integrated system enhances the long-term prospects to educate children from immigrant families.”
In the school year 1984-1985 there were 15 integrated/extended day classes run by the TBE. In July, 1986 the Board released the research report Teaching Heritage Languages and Cultures in an Integrated/Extended Day. This report described the Integrated/Extended Day Heritage Language and Black Cultural Program in terms of social, cultural, economic, educational, political, demographic and psychological variables. The text and tables of this report describe and detail the methods of implementation, effects on the children, effects on the regular staff and school day, working and social accommodations between the teachers and instructors, reactions of regular staff as described by themselves and perceived by others, opinions about the instructors, distribution of information, responsibilities and duties of regular staff and instructors, involvement of parents, materials and resources and changes that should be made if the program was to be continued. In the fall of 1990 there were 21 integrated/extended day programs operating in TBE schools as part of the regular school day.
In 2008, 18 years later, the African Heritage Black Cultural Program is almost extinct at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). The program barely exists as an after school program in 4 of the TDSB’s 464 elementary schools. The integrated/extended day program limps along in 2 schools where it has been reduced to 4 hours a week spread over 5 days (50 minutes Monday to Friday) in one school and 7.5 hours a week spread over 5 days (1.5 hours Monday to Friday), in the other school, rendering it useless. The hypocrisy of the Ontario government is obvious when the Premier and the Minister of Education object to the establishment of an Africentric alternative school but do not fund the African Heritage Program. Several studies have been done which urge that children strive for success when the curriculum includes positive information about their culture. Recommendations to implement the teaching of African culture and history have been made from several studies and reports including the Report on the Education of Black Students in 1987, the African-Canadian Working Group in 1992 and the Royal Commission on Learning in 1994. In the “Stephen Lewis Report on Racism in Ontario to the Premier --- Summer 1992” which was presented on June 9th, 1992, it was reported: “Everywhere, the refrain of the Toronto students, however starkly amended by different schools and different locations, was essentially the refrain of all students. Where are the courses in Black history? Where are the visible minority teachers? Why are there so few role models? Why do our white guidance counsellors know so little of different cultural backgrounds? Why are racist incidents and epithets tolerated? Why are there double standards of discipline? Why are minority students streamed? Why do they discourage us from University? Where are we going to find jobs? What's the use of having an education if there's no employment? How long does it take to change the curriculum so that we're a part of it?”
On June 11th, 2008 a meeting was held at 5050 Yonge Street (TDSB head office) to discuss the future of the African Heritage Program. There were no plans to expand the integrated/extended day program even though it is obvious that is the most effective method of delivering the program, but it is not cost effective. The powers that be at the TDSB do not think our children’s lives are worth the money it would cost to administer the program during the school day. It was suggested that many parents are not aware that the after school program exists and it should be advertised in the Caribbean community’s newspapers. A member of the administration complained about the cost of placing the advertisements. She did not comment on how much it costs when the TDSB advertises in the white newspapers. The hypocrisy of the administration at the TDSB is evident when recommendations from several reports over many years for an inclusive curriculum cannot be accommodated yet within a few months of the Falconer Report there are concrete plans for armed, uniformed police to be housed in secondary schools across the TDSB.
Written in July 2008