Aboriginal higher learner success factors at vancouver community college

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Study Conclusions

The following conclusions are based upon the research findings that indicate which current services that integrate culture are working well. Participants noted there was a need for more Aboriginal employees working within VCC as leaders at all levels, including teaching faculty, who can incorporate more indigenous teaching methodologies, enhanced cultural services, and the need for more cultural sensitivity with peer learners and all employees. All of these findings require VCC to undertake a foundational cultural shift as a part of the current strategic planning process to support Aboriginal learner success into the future.

Conclusion 1: Aboriginal People Drive Cultural Integration

“Post-secondary institutions are primarily comprised of non-Aboriginal faculty and staff, many of whom have a limited understanding of Aboriginal needs” (ALMD, 2010a, p. 3), who frequently exhibit “a lack of respect for Aboriginal cultural and cultural differences” (Malatest, 2002, p. 1). Recognizing that “Aboriginal people thrive in a learning environment that reflects their specific cultural, spiritual, and learning needs” (Williams, 2008, p. 95), it is critical that Aboriginal people themselves are represented meaningfully within the college to integrate these values and understandings into the corporate culture of the organization. According to Malatest (2004),

The percentage of Aboriginal staff at the post-secondary level does not reflect the general population. In order to foster a more participatory and welcoming environment, post-secondary institutions must have more Aboriginal staff and faculty. Aboriginal representation in faculty and support staff is important for a number of reasons: to provide Aboriginal expertise in academic areas; to serve as role models and mentors; to act as advisors to students; for general equity. Aboriginal teachers at all levels demonstrate teaching and support strategies that have proven effective in attracting and keeping Aboriginal students. They are able to initiate more participation and interaction through the kinship of common experience and background. They also teach in ways consistent with Aboriginal experience. (p. 16)

Further evidence was included in research where “literature and interviews gave strong support for existing Aboriginal institutions. Factors said to have contributed to these institutions’ success at attracting and retaining Aboriginal students include the high level of Aboriginal staff and the support of other Aboriginal students” (p. 29). Malatest also noted, it is also important to recognize that

Eurocentric traditions, as well as pressure to meet set guidelines, have meant that the curriculum for Aboriginal learning has largely been set by non-Aboriginal Canadians. Aboriginal educators, however, want control of curriculum development. The National Indian Brother-hood made curriculum development one of its objectives in its 1972 paper, “Indian Control of Indian Education.” The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996) found that where Aboriginal Peoples have exercised control of education, there have been higher success rates. The vast majority of the literature reviewed and interviews conducted linked Aboriginal control of curriculum development to improved enrolment and retention. Aboriginal curriculum development is also thought to increase support from Aboriginal communities. (p. 33)

I assert that Aboriginal peoples’ involvement and authority within post-secondary education is not a contributing factor, rather it is the key factor in supporting the success of Aboriginal higher learners. This long-term goal for the involvement and meaningful integration of Aboriginal culture would directly support the success of Aboriginal learners and mitigate the barriers, such as community-engaged partners who support educational jurisdiction, culturally appropriate and relevant programs (e.g., design, development, and teaching methodologies), culturally appropriate services, cultural sensitivity with front-line staff, and cultural revitalization services.

In fulfilling the mandate of the college (K. Kinloch, personal communication, October 26, 2010), diversity is an important component in achieving its vision, recognizing

that many students do not get enough exposure to other cultures to learn how to work effectively with individuals who are different than they are. These differences manifest themselves in the norms, beliefs, values, and assumptions that students hold. Colleges must find ways for students to communicate regularly across communities of difference so that they are able to develop fully the cross cultural competencies identified by corporate representatives as being essential to the global competitiveness of their organizations. (Milem, in press, p. 14)

Conclusion 2: Foundational Cultural Shift

VCC is a public post-secondary institution intended to support learners from a wide range of backgrounds. The range of barriers and experiences identified within the focus groups indicate that VCC must undertake a foundational culture shift from the assumption that diverse students must assimilate into existing environment to an institutional goal to strive to identify and serve the needs of today’s highly diverse student body and tomorrow’s workforce (Williams et al., 2005, p. 9). This effort cannot be undertaken by one department, a few staff, or one leader; rather, in order to support a successful transformation, senior leadership must pull together as a team (Kotter, 1996, p. 6) and make thoughtful and deliberate decisions about how diversity adds to the educational mission of their institution, making institutional commitments to cultivating diversity (Milem, in press, p.32).

Conclusion 3: Peer Racism within Higher Learning

Within the research, peer racism by non-Aboriginal learners was an unexpected priority for Aboriginal learners at VCC, who are faced daily with the “often poor or hostile public perception of programs and initiatives geared toward Aboriginal people” (Malatest, 2002, p. 46). Peer racism was an important factor considering that Aboriginal learners’ peers have the potential to be each other’s greatest supports when learners’ “hearts and minds may be impacted most by what they learn from peers” (Gurin, 1999, p. 147).

As outlined within this report, the VCC college region is home to the highest rates of cultural diversity in Canada (Government of BC, Multiculturalism and Immigration Branch, 2008, p. 2). We are all at a cross-road in history when diversity can become a storm or an opportunity to enhance teaching and learning, community, and quality of life for many generations to come.

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