citizenship (access to public institutions)
1. Access to schools and education
What do we know?
The conceptualization of gender in relation to immigration and education
in Canada entails two major phenomena:
- gender as a powerful dynamic that shapes
differential experiences for girls and boys in school;
- and gender as a powerful dynamic that shapes
the relation of families to schools.
From research on education, we know that gender has an impact on girls'
and boys' experiences in schools and the outcomes of their education.
Male-biased texts, curricula and teacher expectations, for example, have
contributed to streaming of girls into subjects that limit their future
Canadian schools, individual educators, and community groups have made
substantial efforts to address gender inequality in schools by engaging
in the classroom and in the adoption of curricula materials with 'girl-friendly'
or 'anti-sexist' strategies. Such strategies are ongoing, but unevenly
practiced in local and provincial jurisdictions. Governments provide limited
resources for dealing with gender inequalities and for supporting research
that could monitor the effectiveness of strategies for overcoming the
Furthermore, although recent concerns about boys' performance in schools
need to be addressed, it is unclear how this is to be done without threatening
the ongoing support of work to improve the situation for girls. Finally,
growing research is showing that we cannot understand gender inequality
in schools without taking into account how it interacts with such dynamics
as 'race', ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, and disablement.
For example, recent research and events suggest boys who do not match
dominant cultural norms of masculinity may experience harassment and bullying.
We also know that 'race' and ethnicity, and the processes of racialization
and ethnicization - through which students identify with certain kinds
of identities or through which others make attributions about students
have an impact on educational experiences and social opportunities. Schooling
practices that ignore, dismiss or devalue specific cultural understandings
and that engage in cultural and racial stereotyping produce short-term
and long-term disadvantage in Canadian society.
Over the past three decades, schools have increasingly adopted multicultural
policies that aim to promote tolerance and inclusion. These policies
include such measures as promoting heritage language programs, hiring
more minority teachers, developing curricula to represent diverse cultural
traditions, offering cross-cultural training for educational staff and
administrators, testing children in their mother tongue, and providing
specific services or opportunities for racialized and ethnicized students
and their families. Schools have also begun to adopt anti-racist policies
to attempt to eradicate racial bias and discrimination in schools.
Despite the existence of these two kinds of policies, most schools,
with their limited resources, have had difficulty in going beyond shallow
and static presentation of culture reduced to ethnic food, dress and
quaint customs. Their anti-racism measures tend to be limited to mere
statements about the need to abolish racism, without action. Understanding
the circumstances, culture and values of the students and their families
gets short shrift, as does working against the multiple and pervasive
forms of racism that are institutionalized and enacted in everyday
Furthermore, during recent years, as immigrant children for whom English
or French is their second language have risen as a proportion of the student
population in many regions in Canada, schools have increasingly provided
English or French programs to help children learn the dominant Canadian
languages. Yet, depending on how they are organized, such programs can
have unintended consequences of segregating and marginalizing immigrant
children in schools.
Finally, research also has shown that schools cannot work in isolation
from families. Indeed, it is an illusion to think that it would be
possible for schools to do so. Everyday schooling practices are constantly
shaped by what children bring to school from their family experiences
and circumstances, for example, their 'cultural capital' (their knowledge,
assumptions, tastes and preferences
), their 'social capital' (networks,
exchange of information
), and their economic capital.
The extent to which children have access to these various forms of
capital is strongly influenced by their gender, social class, racialization
and ethnicization. Children whose capital most closely matches that
of schools and educators are most able to take advantage of what schools
have to offer.
Canadian schools have begun to address some of the home-school issues
that occur with immigrant parents and their children by introducing (where
budgets permit) such measures as informing parents in specific languages
about school events, school workshops for parents, inviting parents to
become involved in various school and classroom events.
We know that on a daily basis mothers, including immigrants, generally
are more involved with their children's schooling than fathers, for
example, in contacts with schools, preparing their children for school,
helping them with school-related activities. But in contrast to the existing
research that has examined the dynamics of gender in schools, much
less research exists on the ways that gender shapes the relation of families
What do we need to know?
- How do teachers use their understandings of the various
cultural manifestations of gender inequality, to address gender inequality
in their interactions with immigrant families? For example, how do teachers
who aim to help girls prepare for career employment work with families
who have a different set of values and expectations of their daughters'
and grand-daughters' future social roles and employment prospects?
- How are immigrant children's school experiences shaped
by the ways that gender interacts with 'race,' ethnicity, social class,
and sexual orientation?
- How can teachers learn about a culture and how can
it be presented to students in a thorough and sufficiently complex manner?
How can teachers improve the quality of their interactions with those
of a particular culture, and especially with women?
- How do families and ethno-culturally based networks
successfully maintain culture, language and identity? What difficulties
do they face?
- How are immigrant mothers' interactions with their
children's schooling shaped by the gender of their children, by their
families' ethnicity, by 'race', by class, and by their acquisition of
the various forms of capital?
- What are the support systems and material circumstances of immigrant
mothers and how do these affect their interactions with their children's
- How can schools work more effectively with children's
and parents' language and indigenous knowledge?
- If schools attempt to meet the needs of specific cultural
groups by incorporating their language and knowledge, how can the schools
avoid creating separate/segregated curricula only for those groups,
and strive for multicultural schooling that is truly multiple in its
- How do students use their school-based knowledge as
they interact with their families?
- How do families respond to their children's school-based
knowledge. What are the tensions? What are the benefits?
- How can parents inform themselves and help one another
in dealing with schools; which practices have worked?
- How can assessments of immigrant children's abilities
not replicate biases of the dominant culture?
- How do first and second language issues affect assessment?
- What is the role of special education; which children
are truly learning-disabled and how to differentiate the symptoms of
learning disability from the 'normal' dislocations caused by the immigration
process or the refugee experience?
- What are age specific norms and how do teachers view
them as suitable level of development in the basic areas?