George J. Sefa Dei is Professor of Social Justice Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT), Director for the Centre for Integrative Studies at OISE/UT, and Carnegie African Diaspora Fellow. As he explains, African students at Africentric schools "perform better on tests, skip class less often, show greater respect for authority and elders, report feeling a greater sense of belonging in their schools, and have a greater commitment to social responsibility and community welfare."
By harnessing the power of Africentric content and perspectives, Project Saqqara aims to help teachers of any background at any school help students to succeed.
BUILDING LIFE-CHANGING RAPPORT WITH STUDENTS
Almost all teachers know that students are more likely to succeed when they believe their teachers like, understand, and value them as individuals. What particularly effective teachers comprehend—and express through their teaching—is that many students need more than that.
For countless African students of any national background, a genuine, rich relationship with teachers is impossible because of teacher indifference to, ignorance about, or degradation and stereotyping of their cultural and racial backrounds.
For those students, teachers who share appreciative, specific knowledge of their identities, especially in subject-specific ways, are a bold step towards building trust in the transformational potential of school. Building that rapport can be easy, beginning with simpy pronouncing names correctly (or learning how to do so—which is what teachers expect students to do, and principals expect to teachers with their own names).
While possessing knowledge of students' cultures makes knowing how to pronounce their names that much easier, it's also a gateway to using (and properly pronouncing) greetings and important cultural concepts or references points from students' heritages. Such cultural knowledge is especially powerful for helping students understand curricular relevance.
Because many students of all backgrounds feel disconnected from curriculum, teachers who can understand, cite, and integrate relevant content from students' heritages (including pop cultural references from their backgrounds) are much more likely to build connections because those students feel truly seen, hear, understood, and appreciated.
All of the above is why, as George Sefa Dei explained above, students experiencing Africentric education:
1. Perform better on tests
2. Skip class less often
3. Show greater respect for authority and elders
4. Report feeling a greater sense of belonging in their schools
5. Have a greater commitment to social responsibility and community welfare
THE POWER OF TEACHER-COMMUNITY CONNECTION
Teachers can’t succeed without a key resource: social capital (“the network of relationships between school officials, teachers, parents and the community that builds trust and norms promoting academic achievement”) which a study in the Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk shows is three to five times more powerful than funding for causing higher student achievement: “Strong relationships between teachers, parents and students at schools has more impact on improving student learning than does financial support.”
Based on the data, any school board truly serious about increasing the social capital that builds stronger relationships between teachers and African parents to help students achieve must hire more African teachers, and help the willing and interested teachers of other backgrounds to access effective, aspirational, inspirational Africentric training and content.
To close the racial achievement gap, that social capital must include proof that teachers can collaborate to create and implement solutions, which requires a sufficient number of Africentric teachers, regardless of their race. According to a Texas study cited in Science Daily of more than 13,000 students: "Schools in which teachers showed high levels of collective efficacy had a 50 percent reduction in the academic disadvantage experienced by [African] students, compared to schools where teachers had average levels, the study showed."
“The importance of this finding should not be underestimated,” said Roger Goddard, lead author of the study and Novice G. Fawcett Chair and professor of educational administration at the Ohio State University. “Principals could either empower teachers to try their best or, in some cases, could make it harder to succeed. But the teachers we talked to left no doubt that principals were crucial.”
THE IMPERATIVE: HIRING, RETAINING, AND PROMOTING AFRICAN TEACHERS
As the Hineses wrote in Time, if we “take seriously the call to reimagine and restructure our schools in ways that recognize the value of Black lives, then a much larger focus on the recruitment and retainment of Black teachers is nonnegotiable.”
That’s going to be tough in Canada. Currently only 1.8 percent of teachers in our country are African, and most of them are in Ontario. Of the few Africans who join the Canadian profession, many report report that racist attitudes among staff and administration undermined their careers. Such teachers are less likely to stay on the job or recruit and mentor other African-Canadian teachers, and in places such as Peel, Ontario, teachers’ unions aren’t doing anything to help. As the Toronto Star revealed in a 2020 story:
[W]ell-documented problems of systemic anti-Black racism and Islamophobic discrimination have abounded for years…. Where have the teachers’ unions been while Black educators and families have fought the PDSB over its admitted damage to Black students?
When the board was forced to apologize for the “harm” it had done, systemically, to Black children for generations, the required acknowledgement, a condition under a series of provincial directives, came in the absence of any meaningful work by the unions.
For decades, these institutions, dominated by white members and executives, stood by, while issues of racism and other forms of discrimination boiled over.
In a board whose student body is almost 84 percent non-white, the unions that hold so much sway over the way education is carried out, have been largely indifferent to students, educators and families fighting for their basic rights.
At other times, it’s the union president herself who’s the target of racism. Jennifer Brown was the first African-Canadian president of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto union, and because she sought to dismantle systemic racism at the TDSB, a racist attempted to intimidate and demoralise her by sending a newspaper story about her, but scrawled with racist slurs. Other African teachers in Toronto and York have received the same.
Given the above, how likely is it that many African teachers will simply leave the profession? And when they go, who’s going to recruit and mentor other African-Canadian teachers to empower all the good they can do?
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP STUDENTS SUCCEED
The solutions are obvious, and you can help. If you’re a principal, do like the Boston Consultants Group and many others have recommended for ages: hire African teachers, and hire African consultants to train the willing teachers (because training the unwilling ones won't work) Africentrically.
If you’re a member of a teacher union, you can’t improve everything by yourself, so join with like-minded people to run for office to make your union more Africentric and defend teachers facing racism.
If you’re a parent, join your school council to advocate hiring more African teachers and use Africentric content to educate and inspire students of all backgrounds. If your school council is the problem, start organising among other parents who share your views so that you can win a majority during the next election.
If you’re a voter, contact candidates for school board in the upcoming elections. Ask them to how they’ll support Africentric education and African-Canadian teacher recruitment, retention, and promotion. Ask for a timeline for implementation. Share your results with Project Saqqara and in your own networks. Help the candidates who make the most realistic pledges get elected, and then hold them to account.
START A NEW ERA FOR YOUR STUDENTS TODAY
Ask how Project Saqqara can help your classroom, your school,
or your school district help students and teachers succeed