The Africentric Alternative School in Toronto is under the gaze of Canadians as it nears the end of its first full week. The school is the first of its kind in Canada and controversy has surrounded it since it was first proposed.
It is not difficult to see why there is a perceived need for an africentric school in Canada. Numerous studies have pointed to an abundance of primarily Western-based Caucasian material in the public school curriculum. In this environment, an alternative teaching method could do much to reduce drop-out levels and increase interest in school.
But at the same time it should be noted how terming the school “africentric” can skew the issue — making it one of race as opposed to the deeper and much harder to solve issue of class. Whereas students in affluent boroughs of Toronto have more opportunities both in terms of after-school programs and summer learning, those in the poorer areas are left to their own devices.
Still, even though this may be a class issue, a curriculum geared towards a specific ethnic group is not a new thing in Canada. Religious schools, bilingual programs and schools aimed at teaching Native culture have all been a reality in Canada for many years now, so directing education in this way is hardly innovative.
One fair criticism of the school is how the “africentric” title may give some the impression of exclusivity. However, it is important to note the school is open to all ethnic groups. Additionally, the school is limited to junior kindergarten to grade five, meaning students gain a solid grounding in their own culture early on, but are also able to integrate later in their education.
But as always, a slippery slope argument can be raised. Why not continue to create specialized schools for all cultures? The problem is that type of practice isolates cultural groups, robbing young students of the multicultural experience Canada has embraced. A simpler solution would be integrating the new program into mainstream curriculum by offering special courses such as black history.
In reality one needs to look at the true purpose of this school’s creation — to lower drop-out rates. The current solutions ignore the larger issue: As it currently stands primary education is not tailored to students and relies on centuries-old teaching methods.
While there are numerous reasons why students drop out such as a lack of parental involvement in education or a curriculum ignorant of other cultures, only through true reformation of educational approaches will drop-out rates finally decline.