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NEW INNOVATIONS IN EDUCATION AND THE PARADOX OF TRADITION AND MODERN TECHNOLOGY: PARTICIPATORY RESEARCH PROJECT ON CULTURALLY-RESPONSIVE DIGITAL EDUCATION IN REMOTE NORTHERN COMMUNITIES IN CANADA

S. Agbo

Lakehead University (CANADA)
This paper describes a three-year project funded by Canada's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to utilize participatory research methods to investigate the development, evolution and educational role of an innovative digital high school that provides an alternative delivery model for high school students in 16 remote and isolated Aboriginal communities in Northern Ontario. The project is a collaborative study between university-based researchers and Aboriginal communities to investigate key aspects of Aboriginal knowledge and culture that communities see as reflecting the curriculum needs of Aboriginal students, as well as the effective digital tools that would enhance and extend the delivery of the curriculum. Working collaboratively with members of the communities that have the Internet high school classrooms, the research team used a participatory research framework to investigate key aspects of Aboriginal knowledge and culture that communities see as reflecting the curriculum needs of Aboriginal students, as well as the effective digital tools that would enhance and extend the delivery of the curriculum. The study documented what Aboriginal people perceive as top community priorities for their children's high school education, and proposed strategies that would help close the achievement gap between Aboriginal and Canadian mainstream students. This paper looks more closely at the utilization of participatory research in a digital education curriculum development and teaching project that addresses the cultural as well as technology needs of Aboriginal students. The paper examines how Aboriginal communities are utilizing technology to create new innovations in the education of Aboriginal children and the importance of collaboration among university-based researchers, community people, parents, students and teachers in carrying out school improvement projects. The paper also presents the findings in the first two phases of the three-phase project. The findings indicate that the Internet high school should aim at a two-way approach or bi-cultural education by creating a frontier of learning where there is the need to go beyond Aboriginal traditions and culture and to encourage a cross-fertilization of insights, practices and mental prototypes of different cultures and technology. Community viewpoints indicate that children's survival and advancement in a modern knowledge-based world economy lies in equipping them with the skills and technology required to survive and flourish in the mainstream Canadian society. Whereas communities viewed proficiency in the basics important, they indicated that a crucial instrument for acquiring the skills, language, and technology necessary to compete in the knowledge-based economy lies in some of the ideals of the indigenous culture. The findings also suggest that in order for Aboriginal students in remote and isolated communities to advance harmoniously and steadily in the modern world, they should clearly identify themselves with their cultural heritage while gaining proficiency in the basics of reading, writing, math and science. A two-way approach to schooling should then involve the reinforcement of the children's cultural identity as well as a level of proficiency in each culture in order to make a living in present-day Canadian society.