Education featured Racism

Wayne Desmond: Much more must be done to remove barriers faced by Black learners

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – African Nova Scotians and people of African ancestry, much like all People of Colour, have historically slipped through the cracks in educational institutions. 

In contrast to their peers of European ancestry, African Nova Scotians face significant educational barriers leading to lower educational and employment success rates.

This achievement gap between Black learners and other students manifests as lower grades, lower standardized testing scores and lower post-secondary attendance and completion levels, different course selections, and higher dropout rates.  

This explains why most Black learners feel that they have been subjected to unfair treatment in the classrooms and that their educational well-being has been put at jeopardy. The achievement gap was first brought to the attention of the school boards years ago; as the BLAC report on education highlighted the many barriers that Black learners face.

This same achievement gap explains why so many African Nova Scotians pursue post-secondary education at a community college level, where they seek diplomas and certificates, as opposed to attending university and completing a degree. Community college courses tend to take less time to complete.  

Historically there has been a concerted effort by the educational system to steer Black learners away from academic high school courses and into general high school courses that more likely will exclude them from pursuing a post-secondary education.

To address these systemic barriers, the Provincial government implemented various positions within the educational system and offered cultural enrichment programs and services. They also funded scholarships and bursaries to help finance post-secondary education, as most learners from the Black community could not afford education after high school. 

See also: Thandiwe McCarthy: The darkest lesson – my education history

To some extent these measures were successful at addressing the educational barriers that Black learners faced.

However, Black learners still are at a disadvantage compared to their non-black peers. 

To truly understand the seriousness and urgency of this problem, you would have to be familiar with the effects of the achievement gap, or have been a victim of it yourself. 

So, why does the problem continue to persist?

Of course changes of this nature take time, but after nearly three decades since the BLAC Report was published, we should have closed the gap. Nonetheless, barriers continue to persist. 

One such barrier is financial.

In the nineties, governmental scholarships and bursaries for Black learners were between $2,500 and $4,500 for first year university students, and $2,500 for the second and third year, and $1,800 for college students. Fourth year university students were not eligible for the scholarship, which was a problem, which has since been addressed. 

In the 90’s, $4,500 generally covered the cost of tuition and books. But today, because of inflation, $4,500 does not cover one semester of tuition. As tuition rises, scholarships should increase with it. 

Currently, Dalhousie University is proposing yet another 3 percent increase in tuition. At least the government should increase the amount of the scholarship to reflect the increasing cost of tuition.  

As well, the scholarship should be the same amount for all four years of the learner’s undergraduate degree, as opposed to $4,500 first year and $2,500 for the remainder. 

The African Nova Scotian Student Support Worker position was developed to support Black Learners within the school. Most schools that had Black Learners enrolled had a support worker working on a full-time basis. As time progressed and the number of Black Learners within schools increased, the number of support workers did not keep up. As a result, caseloads increase, and Student Support Workers are required to travel from school to school. This makes the support workers jobs less effective. Support workers should be situated at one school on a full-time basis, as opposed to covering multiple schools.

As time goes on, we hear arguments that funding is an issue. However, if a program or service was implemented to help a group of learners, there should not be funding issues and the programs and services should not end until the objective(s) have been met. 

Of course these barriers are not the sole cause for Black learners lower levels of academic success, but it explains to a large extent why Black communities are still celebrating “firsts” in professions commonly achieved in the larger community.  African Nova Scotian politicians, engineers, government directors, lawyers, judges, teachers, superintendents, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, professors, etc. are still not standard in our communities.

Recently Nova Scotia Community Colleges and some universities in Nova Scotia offered tuition waivers to learners that were in foster care. That’s a great initiative. I want to ask, what about the Black learners? 

The Province of Nova Scotia must do more to support Black learners. Whether that means allocating more funding for scholarships, bursaries, support positions and services or for post-secondary institutions to offer lower tuition costs to Black Learners (or a combination of both), it’s clear that something must be done. 

See also: Wayne Desmond: My long search for safe spaces for Black learners

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