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Educational reform in Labrador

An exciting new two year project, sponsored by a significant grant from the federal government, sent four Memorial professors to Labrador to work with the Innu this past year. Drs. David Philpott, Wayne Nesbit, Millie Cahill and Gary Jeffrey, all in the Faculty of Education assisted the Innu with reforming their educational system as they work towards obtaining self-government.

The Memorial team was headed up by principal researcher Dr. Philpott, were in Sheshatshiu, to begin the project. The goal of these researchers was to profile the educational needs of the community, particularly student achievement.

“Identifying the needs of students is at the very core of teaching,”states Dr. Philpott, “and we are consulting with all stakeholders to identify where resources need to be delivered.”

This includes the Labrador school board, band councils, teachers, community leaders, federal Department of Native and Northern Affairs, and the Innu Nation. The team worked on creating and implementing a model to identify learner diversity, as well as creating avenues for long-term professional development to assist with capacity building within these schools.

Each faculty member brought a unique skill set to the team. Dr. Philpott and Dr. Nesbit have a special education perspective, which is essential in identifying and assisting in learners' needs. Dr. Cahill specializes in career counselling, transition planning, employability skills, and issues related to early school leaving. And Dr. Jeffrey works in the area of developmental psychology and educational assessment.

Of course, the research team hopes to create and implement tools that will assist local teachers and community members in Labrador in the long run. To assist in this venture, the researchers have studied successful models of other indigenous communities, such as the Inuit of Nunavut, the Cree in James Bay, and even groups in New Zealand and Australia, to get a global perspective of how to best serve local needs.

Additionally, they also gathered and coordinated information from both Sheshatshiu and Natuashish, to create a database of need. The overall goal, as articulated by Dr. Nesbit, is to have an “improved educational system, using best teaching practices to meet the needs of the students.”

For Dr. Philpott, it was an exciting time to be working on a project like this. They are ultimately hoping to assist with building a school system that is responsive to the needs of students, initially by identifying their strengths, and deciding how weaknesses can be alleviated. He states, “the Innu have retained their language more successfully than many other indigenous peoples in Canada. There are endless research opportunities, and this could be the beginning of an interesting partnership.”

Dr. Nesbit pointed out that, as an outsider, sensitivity is required when dealing with preservation of language and culture. However, the group was welcomed with open arms by the band councils, and community members were “very positive, encouraging and optimistic, despite their struggles.”

Dr. Philpott anticipates that the findings of his team, “could eventually extend into more pragmatic research on program and curriculum development.”As well, he feels that their work “broadens the role of special education to a context of culture.”The project is anticipated to last approximately two years.