First symposium supporting Black Canadian STEM education underway

- July 27, 2022

Promotional artwork for "Past/Future: African Canadian History, Arts and Culture in STEM Education in Canada."
Promotional artwork for "Past/Future: African Canadian History, Arts and Culture in STEM Education in Canada."

This week marks the first of many symposiums by the Department of Canadian Heritage and Dalhousie University in their three-year project to support Black Canadian education.
Past/Future: African Canadian History, Arts and Culture in STEM Education in Canada is the first symposium of its kind in Canada. The symposium is designed to highlight the lack of support for Black Canadians in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and to explore historical Black figures in these fields. The hope is to support educators in bridging boundaries for Black learners.
Afua Cooper is the principal investigator of A Black People’s History of Canada, the three-year partnership between Dalhousie and the Department of Canadian Heritage. Among her many accomplishments, Dr. Cooper is an award-winning poet and author and a professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology. She is also the past James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies.

A focus on curriculum

“In many of the STEM disciplines, Black children are woefully underrepresented,” she says. “Why is it that we don't see the Black faces in STEM, with teachers or students, given that over the course of 200 years we’ve had pioneering Black doctors and pioneering Black professionals in STEM?”
Dr. Cooper wonders if the teaching methods and curriculum are to blame.
“Oftentimes, people say, ‘Canadian history is boring.’” What if we bring in lessons about someone like Dr. Clement Ligoure? A hero of the Halifax explosion, who treated hundreds of people at his Halifax hospital. A Black man who didn't have hospital privileges in Halifax because of his race. He also co-founded the first Black newspaper in Nova Scotia, called the Atlantic Advocate. Here’s an important figure in both STEM and Black history.”
The symposium is supported by Pemberton Cyrus, head of Department Industrial Engineering at Dalhousie; Mount Saint Vincent University’s Faculty of Education; Acadia University; and the Canadian Research Chair in Communities and Cultures Marcia Ostashewski.

Integrating Black learners and knowledge

Also contributing to the symposium is the IMHOTEP's Legacy Academy, a Dal-community partnership championed for its efforts  to develop more STEM opportunities for Black learners.
“They're doing fantastic work getting Nova Scotians in middle schools and high schools to consider STEM through robotics contest, AI, and that sort of thing,” explains Dr. Cooper.
This focus on STEM education support for Black learners feeds into the broader Black People’s History of Canada project.
“The aim of the program is to centre Black Canadian history within the Canadian history curriculum in the Canadian education system. We aim to do that by researching Black history, writing curriculum lesson plans for teachers and learners, and uploading all this information onto a website,” says Dr. Cooper, noting the website will grant free access to this information to teachers, learners, and the public.

“Oftentimes people say, ‘Well, we can't teach history because there's not much information.’ But we are now we're going to challenge people. We're going to provide the information to them.”

While the program is funded by a $1-million grant over three years, Dr. Cooper hopes to see the project continue even beyond that.
“A sister theme to the program is working with educational stakeholders, like boards of education, to pilot the curriculum material in classrooms. It's really a comprehensive project,” Dr. Cooper says.
Past/Future: African Canadian History, Arts and Culture in STEM Education runs from July 26 -28 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. More information can be found here.


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