Students tout undergraduate anti-oppression education course

Preservice teachers will get a preview of what anti-oppression education looks like through a pilot course this fall, the precursor to a required course launching in 2022 as part of a package of undergraduate program renewal changes.

“The amount of racism that’s happening openly, such as the denial of residential schools and their legacy, teachers are going to be confronting this stuff in their classrooms among their students, potentially with other teachers, so they want to have the tools to address it,” said Educational Policy Studies professor Alexandre Da Costa, who is part of the undergraduate program renewal working group.

“This course will help put the Faculty at the forefront of pedagogies that will prepare educators to address challenges oppression and inequity pose in education at this time. It will also allow the Faculty to remain competitive with other programs in terms of the professional knowledge preservice teachers are increasingly seeking at this time.”

The launch in the fall of EDPS 401 - Selected Topics in Educational Policy Studies: Anti-Oppression Education is a step toward creating such a course for all BEd students. EDPS 401, taught by professor Dia Da Costa, aims to equip students with “foundational knowledge of anti-oppression education that can inform approaches to challenge inequity and oppression in the diverse spaces in which education and learning take place, from day-to-day life and within communities to schools, universities, and other institutions.”

Creating inclusive spaces for all students

Reagan MorrisReagan Morris, a third-year Elementary Education student and interim vice-president (external) of the U of A Education Students’ Association (ESA), is enrolled in the pilot course. They said that presently EDU 211 - Aboriginal Education and Contexts for Professional and Personal Engagement is the only course that introduces undergrads to anti-oppression frameworks and the realities of structural violence and systemic oppression of marginalized groups. They’d like to see preservice teachers better prepared to address these topics with K-12 students.

“I shouldn’t have to get to the university level without learning about the realities of oppression that Indigenous people have faced,” Morris said. “The fact I got to this point is indicative of that oppression continuing, because it is the silencing and censorship of these realities.”

Morris, who hopes to eventually become a school guidance counsellor, said issues relating to race and ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, disability, class and other sites of inequity are bound to arise in diverse classrooms, and that teachers need to be prepared to help students navigate these issues.

“My course selection has been about how a course will help me support my future students,” Morris said. “You are going to encounter students from different backgrounds who are dealing with the kinds of oppression that are covered in this course.”

Third-year Elementary Education student Natalie Chan, who is currently interim president of the ESA, said that anti-oppression education courses will help preservice teachers confront their own biases in order to create inclusive spaces where all students can learn.

“Teachers don’t just teach curriculum—there’s the things we do and say to students inside and outside the classroom that have an impact,” Chan said. “It’s important for teachers to use correct, respectful language and be aware of the ways cultural, socio-economic and other kinds of difference exist in their classrooms.”

Vince Pantinople, who is entering his final year in Secondary Education, is a member of the U of A BIPOC Association. He said his own experiences as a newcomer to Canada as a teenager have shaped his thinking about how preservice teachers need preparation for leading diverse classrooms.

“If you look at what Canada is becoming, we would be doing newcomers a disservice if they come into a school in which they don’t feel like they belong,” Pantinople said. “Coming from the Philippines. I felt like I had to change my personality, change how I talked, change even my interests so I could have a community that would welcome me. I think anti-oppression education will help teachers to create more inclusive spaces.”

‘Meaningful and purposeful education’

Hannah Terkper and Esosa Ikuobase, both in the final year of the BEd program, are part of the collective of Black Education students who have been meeting with Dean Jennifer Tupper to discuss ways to address anti-Black racism and advance racial justice in the Faculty. They said an anti-oppression education course is key to preparing preservice teachers for ongoing personal and professional growth.

“When I think of anti-oppression education, I think of being knowledgeable of past histories and useful strategies when it comes to students in your class and not repeating oppression,” Terkper said.

Ikuobase said the aims of anti-oppression education align with Alberta Education’s Teaching Quality Standards, namely establishing inclusive learning environments (TQS #4), including FNMI perspectives (TQS #5) and engaging in career-long learning (TQS #2).

“I really think a class like this exemplifies meaningful and purposeful education,” Ikuobase said. “We want to be the best version of ourselves so that students can be the best version of themselves, so our communities can be the best versions they can be.”

Feature image: Esosa Ikuobase