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REF NO.: 139

SUBJECT: Memorial University's education faculty members work with Labrador Innu to reform education system
DATE: April 11, 2003

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

The Memorial faculty, headed up by principal researcher Dr. Philpott, recently returned from a trip to Sheshatshiu, where they have begun working on this project. They plan to soon conduct a similar venture to Natuashish, the resettled community of Davis Inlet, in the near future.

The goal of these researchers is threefold. First, they intend to profile the educational needs of the community, particularly student achievement.

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

Stakeholders include the Labrador school board, band councils, teachers, community leaders, federal Department of Native and Northern Affairs, and the Innu Nation. The researchers' second goal is to create and implement a model to identify learner diversity. Finally, they will create avenues for long-term professional development to assist with capacity building within these schools.

Each faculty member brings a unique skill set to the team. Drs. Philpott and Nesbit bring a special education perspective, considered 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.

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.

They are also gathering and co-ordinating 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."

Dr. Philpott says that this is an exciting time to be working on this kind of a project. 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. "The Innu have retained their language more successfully than many other indigenous peoples in Canada," he said. "There are endless research opportunities, and this could be the beginning of an interesting partnership."

Dr. Nesbit also notes that, as an outsider, sensitivity is required when dealing with preservation of language and culture. However, the group has been welcomed with open arms by the band councils, and they have found community members to be, "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.

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