View From SD73: The values of Aboriginal methods of learning

Each child learns at his or her own pace and everyone shares the responsibility of teaching them

Ten years ago, while attending a regional school trustees meeting in Lillooet, I was treated to a tour of a traditional fish camp on the banks of the Fraser River.

This site has been used by local First Nations for many years. The exhibits and demonstrations were engaging and we enjoyed a demonstration of the way the fish are processed.

I was enormously impressed with the skill and speed with which a large salmon is cleaned and prepared for preserving.

I asked our presenters how they acquired their skills.

What followed was an explanation that informed me, but also, ultimately, changed my view of how children can and should learn.

In a modern society, we tend to forget that, traditionally, all members of the family played a role in bringing in the harvest and preparing food for the winter.

My own daughters are quick to remind me of the time they spent shucking corn and pitting cherries.

But in a First Nations fish camp, I saw how the children of the community were schooled by doing.

They begin their learning with a task that is appropriate for their age and move up to more difficult tasks as they acquire foundational skills.

It may take a week and it may take an entire season.

Each child learns at his or her own pace and everyone in the community shares the responsibility of teaching them.

I came away thinking about how the education system could learn so much from the Aboriginal Peoples’ way of learning.

I wondered if our schools could return to a system that allowed children to acquire knowledge at their own pace.

Little did I know that, at the same time I was having my “lightbulb” moment, a movement was afoot throughout British Columbia’s educational system that would see us embrace the traditional ways of learning that Canada’s First People have practised for centuries.

In classrooms throughout our district, teachers are incorporating a new curriculum that encourages students to learn holistically through project- and inquiry-based learning.

Students are embracing this challenge and, as a result, there is a lot of exciting learning going on out there.

By incorporating Aboriginal worldviews and perspectives in our schools, all students are encouraged to see the world through a different lens and from other perspectives.

I am pleased that the Kamloops-Thompson school district’s five-year strategic plan includes a commitment to honour the First Peoples’ principles of learning and Aboriginal worldview and perspectives.

This recognizes learning is not linear, but a continuous cycle. With each cycle, students learn at a deeper level.

Learning is lifelong and a continuing process. Through traditional learning, our students gain a better understanding of other cultures and of their place in the world.

– Denise Harper is completing her sixth term as a trustee. She represents the rural ward east of the City of Kamloops, which includes TNRD Areas L and P, the Village of Chase and the Resort Municipality of Sun Peaks. To contact Harper, email dharper@sd73.bc.ca. This column first appeared in Kamloops This Week.

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