21 September 2009
By Ezrom Serame Mokgakala, Toronto, Canada
Thando Hyman-Aman, a young Toronto leader has been appointed the first head teacher of Canada’s first Afro-centric school, bringing with her a pristine resume that won over even those of us who were skeptical about the viability of such an idea. Among her many accomplishments is her contribution to the building of the Board of Education’s Equity Policies. Thando Hyman-Aman is well-known in the African-Canadian as a second generation Toronto-based Pan Africanist who was raised by O’Brien and Nomvuyo Hyman, two very militant Anti-Apartheid Activists who raised their children in the Pan Africanist tradition.
Although some of us are still skeptical about Afro-centric education, everyone in the community wants to see Thando and her staff at the school, bring down the 40% failure rate among African-Canadian high school students. Canadian universities also report that even some of those who make it to them come with poor skills to meet the challenge of acquiring a post secondary education. However, the first Afro-centric school opened in Toronto to the sound of the African drum.
The idea of an Afro-centric education was first proposed by the Ontario Royal Commission on Learning in 1994. It has been a subject of heated debate in the community for many years and has won traction recently, as violence among African Canadian high school students escalated and their results continued to plummet. According to James Pasternak, a trustee at the Toronto Board of Education, Thando won over many parents when she passionately demonstrated how she will deliver the current curriculum of the Board through an Afro-centric Lens. Most parents were particularly impressed by The Pledge which the students at the school are to read every day.*One parent said she was very impressed that the kids will repeat this Pledge every morning until they believe in it. “It (the Pledge) will surely raise their self-esteem,” she said.
According to Hazel Bridgeman, a mother of an African-Canadian child, “Self-esteem is the issue that African-Canadian children face.” She is one of those who are opposed to the school as she considers it as a form of self imposed segregation, which is a step back from the gains that we as a community made through the civil rights struggle. She belongs to a group that appeals for more informed debate on the issue in the community. The group fears that the Afro-centric school will lower standards for the African-Canadian child.
Another issue facing educators was the fact that the 21st century child was far more technologically advanced than the parent and teacher. Education itself has undergone a revolution. According to Jim Greenlaw of the Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, “education has moved from the transmitional (giving the information and teaching the child to regurgitate the information) to the transactional, where the child is actively involved in collecting and interpreting the information and acting on it. It is teaching the child how to acquire information.”
All parents of African Canadian children, including those non African Canadians who have adopted African children, will be anxiously awaiting the results of Thando Hyman-Aman’s effort. We all can only wish her very well.