Graduate Diploma in Contemplative Theology and Spiritual Mentorship at Saint Paul University

June 28, 2016 1:55 pm

The Faculty of Theology at Saint Paul University is offering a new graduate diploma in Contemplative Theology and Spiritual Mentorship. Launched in French in September 2015, it will be offered in English in September 2016. The program is a response to our society’s growing need for a life of interiority and the experience of silence, in search of a happiness that goes beyond fleeting pleasure. Nowadays, many people describe themselves as spiritual but not religious, and are attracted by Eastern traditions and the various movements to which they give rise. Few, however, are aware of the rich Christian experience of mysticism. Over the centuries this tradition has gathered a wisdom that is as much about human psychology as it is about the holistic transformation of the person through an intimate relationship with the divine.

By opening up this Christian contemplative tradition, the diploma addresses the issues related to a life in the Spirit, and provides mentorship that is in step with contemporary spiritual renewal. The program is based on two broad principles. First, it is a graduate-level university program that also seeks to reflect individual religious experience. It combines academic science and an examination of the inner life in order to achieve the best integration of the material studied. Second, the program is based on the conviction that it is not possible to appreciate the riches of Christian mysticism and contemplative mentorship without considering other spiritualities (Zen, yoga, etc.) as well as the sciences (psychology, neurology, etc.), especially those that study altered states of consciousness attained through meditative practices.

This unique program begins in August with a week-long silent retreat. By way of comparison, students in psychotherapy do not rely solely on book learning: they must also become comfortable with the silence between therapist and client. Similarly, we believe it is important for theology students to experience inner silence before studying great spiritual writers such as John Climacus, John of the Cross, Theresa of Avila or Madame Guyon.

Related: From Learning Through Pleasure to Healing Through Pleasure.

The program consists of five courses: 1. Self-Understanding; 2. Issues and Conditions for a Contemplative Renewal; 3. Steps on the Path towards Union with God; 4. The Master-Disciple Relationship from the Time of Jesus until Now; 5. Contemplative Theology in Dialogue with the Sciences and Other Spiritualities. The program runs from August until May. The first four courses are offered over three weekends, while the fifth is offered over a two-week period. Enrolment is limited to 18 students in order to promote dialogue and group learning.

This is not a professional program; it does not lead to a practice of mentorship through field placements. What it does offer is a deep, rigorous knowledge of the spiritual path and the need for mentorship. It aims to prepare students to commit to training in this area. It also provides additional training for professionals in health or pastoral services, or in other helping professions. The program is open to believers and non-believers, to Christians and non-Christians.

The main criteria for admission are an undergraduate degree and a minimum of 12 credits in theology or religious studies, or equivalent pastoral experience. Willingness to undertake a silent retreat of at least a week is also strongly recommended.

For more information see

Fabrice Blée is an Associate Professor at Saint-Paul University.

Algonquin College is Igniting Passion

June 9, 2016 1:24 pm

On February 11th, Algonquin College launched the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, or, IgniteAC. Students and college staff alike now have access to resources that have been designed to help them launch their businesses while studying or working at Algonquin.

 Algonquin’s President and CEO Cheryl Jensen has a history of encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset at the school since she became the college’s president in 2014.

 Last year, Jensen signed the National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship President’s Pledge, which commits a college to train students to become leaders, to ensure that the college creates teams devoted to entrepreneurship as well as to increase engagement with local entrepreneurs.

 IgniteAC will help fulfill those promises. Located in on the College’s Woodroffe campus, the unique centre provides access to an office and meeting space, along with connections to a variety of Algonquin College entrepreneurship resources such as events, education, and assorted programming (including the SUMMIT Summer Intensive entrepreneurship boot camp that is happening this summer).

 IgniteAC complements Algonquin’s current entrepreneurship resources, including the award- winning program Applied Research. Applied Research aids innovators, students and faculty to tackle business endeavours through support, enriched learning, and preparation for students entering the workplace.

 “We believe that college is the best place to start your business, and in the coming years you will hear us talk more about how we are building that entrepreneurial culture internally with our students and employees,” says Jensen.

 “Algonquin College has long been known within the college sector as an innovator, and by opening the centre we are placing more tools in our tool belt and better equipping our students and graduates for success.”

 Students who work in the space will have the chance to receive support from Andrew Foti, the Algonquin Student Association’s Executive in Residence. Foti has over 20 years experience as an advisor to technology and life science sector companies, and has helped entrepreneurs to find, finance, scale and sell their businesses.

 Initial PR, a public relations firm commanded by four Algonquin students, was recently unveiled and is one sample of that entrepreneurial spirit that is being encouraged.

 The firm’s president Bryant McNamara is one of many students who is pleased about the possibilities that IgniteAC will create for entrepreneurial students. “This is precisely what we need at this time to make sure that we succeed in our career and in the economy of today,” said McNamara. “The economy is one that requires entrepreneurship to grow, and Algonquin has heard that call.”

 IgniteAC forms one part of the Capital Entrepreneurs Program, a joint venture with Carleton University, the University of Ottawa, and La Cité Collégiale. The program looks to strengthen the capacity of Ottawa’s colleges and universities to support entrepreneurial youth.

The Facts About Algonquin College’s Saudi Arabian Campus

May 5, 2016 1:56 pm

Algonquin College has been engaged in international activity since 2004 through partner institutions across Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. We began working with the government of Saudi Arabia on reforms and improvements to that nation’s technical and vocational college system in 2009 through a campus in Jazan, Saudi Arabia. This important effort proved the strength and value of a Canadian college education abroad, and generated an important financial return for Algonquin College.

In 2013, this partnership expanded when Algonquin College joined international education providers from around the world, including the US, Spain, the UK, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada to submit bids to operate campuses for five- year terms, educating Saudi women and men. After our successful bid, the campus in Jazan was rebranded as Algonquin College.

The Saudi government subsequently opened up additional campuses for bidding, and in the second wave Algonquin College was not successful in our goal of obtaining a women’s college. We are exploring options to open a female campus in the future. We are nonetheless pleased to see vocational education opportunities being opened up to thousands of female Saudi students.

Since the beginning, Algonquin has been open and transparent about the College’s work in Saudi Arabia, announcing each new step, and providing regular updates to our Board and to the Ontario government,which approved this international expansion. We look forward to continuing to build upon the success of our international education work, in support of our mission of transforming hopes and leading to lifelong career success.

Why is Algonquin College operating a campus in Saudi Arabia?

Algonquin College began its international work in 2004, and in that time has engaged countries in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East in educational partnerships and programs while also hosting international students from 100 countries at our campuses in Ontario. While acknowledging that no country in the world is exactly like Canada, the College aimed to have a positive impact globally by engaging other countries rather than isolating them.

In the second wave Algonquin College was not successful in our goal of obtaining a women’s college. We are exploring options to open a female campus in the future.

Why is Algonquin College operating a male-only campus?

As part of the Colleges of Excellence program, and in keeping with Saudi cultural norms, the government of Saudi Arabia has opened 18 all-female and 19 all-male colleges, including the male campus we operate. As is the religious custom in Saudi Arabia, all schools in that country are gender-segregated.

As mentioned, Algonquin College has not been successful in its goal of obtaining a women’s college yet. We are looking at all the options.

Has Algonquin College lost money in Saudi Arabia?

On the whole, the Algonquin College Saudi Arabia Limited Liability Company (LLC) is expected to return $4.4 million to Algonquin College’s operations over the duration of the five-year Jazan campus contract. Though the campus posted a $1.4 million loss during its second year (in 2014-15), this is in part due to a variety of economic and other complicating factors. To mitigate this, the College has changed its program mix and reconfigured its language program delivery with a strong positive effect for 2015-16.

As international operations are not funded by the Ontario government, no Ontario taxpayer money has been jeopardized by this one-time loss. Revenues from other non-funded operations offset our onetime loss in 2014-15, and those funds will be recovered over the remaining years of the contract.

Learn More

Our International Education Strategic Plan can be viewed at This plan guides where we do business internationally, and why.

In response to interest from our community, and in the interests of transparency, the College is releasing the 2013 Jazan campus proposal document, including its initial offer to operate a female campus in Al-Kharj, Saudi Arabia. Algonquin College’s Jazan campus’ website is Visit the Saudi Colleges of Excellence website,, to  see a full list of campuses and learn about the initiative’s goals.

Scott Anderson is the Executive Director of Public
Relations and Communications at Algonquin College

Becoming an Aging Society: Opportunities and Challenges

January 26, 2016 12:11 pm

Saint Paul University is interested in issues and conditions that affect the way humans live, relate and make meaning. As a centre of higher learning, it promotes excellence in teaching, research, and professional formation as part of the local, national and international academic community. It also collaborates with diverse faith communities and socio-cultural organizations to respond to the challenges presently confronting Church and society. One of the challenges we are currently facing on a global scale is that of an increasing aging population.

Statistics Canada reports that as of July 2015, Canada officially became an aging society. That means there are more people 65 and over than 15 and under. The report tells us that the cohort of people 65 will continue to grow at a pace of four times faster than the population at large over the next twenty years. While many European and some Asian countries are already aging societies, for Canadians this is a unique period of our history. Sometimes called the “silver tsunami”, this dramatic shift to an aging demographic affects many aspects of human living both personally and collectively. Every aspect of our society will be affected by this new situation: the economic, social, political, corporate, psychological, ethical, spiritual and religious. The assumptions and values that underlie our public and economic policies, caregiving and institutional practices, as well as our ordinary daily living are being called into question as we attempt to cope with this new situation.

Becoming an aging society provides us with opportunities and challenges. Much media attention is given to a rather pessimistic view of this reality with a focus mainly on its financial impact. However it is much more! Unless we take a good look at the big picture and at what is really going on in the different sectors, we risk misinterpreting and misusing all kinds of  resources in a situation we do not understand and cannot sustain. Sustainability depends both on a realistic acknowledgement of limited resources and a confidence in our human ability to create anew as we seek to adapt to the realities of aging in a Canadian society that is diverse and pluralistic. We have an ethical and moral obligation to respond to this situation that takes into account the welfare of all. Socially responsible citizenship demands nothing less. We need to reframe our ways of viewing this reality in order to reason more clearly, perceive unintended consequences, and understand the rationale for the complex decisions that affect all sectors of society.

The many disciplines in the Humanities and Social Sciences programs at Saint Paul University provide a rich learning and research environment in which to critically and creatively explore the many issues related to the issue of becoming an aging society. Over the past year, a core research team has been planning for a conference on this issue for September 2016.  Planning has involved consultation meetings with professionals from a number of organizations who are engaged in practices and policy-making that affect the aging population in a variety of sectors in the surrounding community. These consultations have allowed us to reflect on questions of justice and inclusivity for the aged, their families and their caregivers in areas of health care, spiritual care, housing, education and community services. It is becoming clear that attending to such questions calls for building hospitable environments in which difference is openly welcomed as opportunities for learning, growing, and determining appropriate courses of action. We believe this situation provides an opportunity to build and strengthen hospitable communities in which our human needs and gifts are welcomed and shared. Such communities are the face of change.

Lorraine Ste-Marie is associate professor in the School of Transformative Leadership and Spirituality in the Faculty of Human Sciences.

Patricia Marsden-Dole is a graduate of the Doctor of Ministry Program and community collaborator.

Monique Lanoix is associate professor in the School of Public Ethics in the Faculty of Philosophy.

Get Ahead of the Curve with Algonquin Trades

January 12, 2016 11:57 am
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Algonquin College has been training students in skilled trades for over 45 years. Additionally, out of 20,000 students at Algonquin College, 1,900 are enrolled in skilled trades programs. Matthew Dicaire can’t wait to enroll at Algonquin College in the Basic Electrical program. On top of his education, he also has to complete 9,000 hours in the field before he can officially be a licensed electrician.

The process has required Dicaire to find a Master Electrician (someone who is a fully licensed electrician) to hire him as an apprentice. When he completed his hours and has passed his courses at Algonquin, he will take a test with the Ontario College of Trades. The test requires a passing score of 70 per cent. If this is achieved, Dicaire will receive his license and can start working as a contractor.

“The main reason I wanted to get into the trades was to be able to do something that was hands-on,” says Dicaire. “Becoming an electrician was something I wanted and I knew I could pursue.” Becoming an apprentice allowed Dicaire to receive paid work, as well as a sense of what the trade required of him. He says he chose to pursue the program at Algonquin because it has a great reputation. “My coworkers told me they chose Algonquin because it is known for being focused on the trades.”

Dicaire says that he has learned a lot through his apprenticeship and is looking forward to beginning his studies at Algonquin. “I am learning how to work with clients, as well as how the business side of being an electrician functions. I am also learning the construction side of the trade. The hands-on work has taught me a lot.”

Religion, Theology, and Tomorrow’s Society

September 23, 2015 2:11 pm

Religions in Crisis

October 22, 2015, will mark the first anniversary of a tragic event that took place here in Ottawa: the shootings at the National War Memorial and on Parliament Hill. The attacker claimed he was acting on account of his religious beliefs. Since then, the media have reported that many young people from Canada have travelled abroad to join religious war movements. Must we conclude that religion is dangerous? Should we therefore do our best to “liberate” society from religion? These are serious questions that require adequate answers.

First, let us remember that it is not religious beliefs as such that create the kind of violence we have been witnessing recently. Rather, such violence is the result of fanaticism and extremism. Religion is not going to disappear from our world—despite regular and premature obituaries.

Instead of attempting to eradicate any kind of religion from our society, should we not aim to help people live their religious beliefs in a reasonable way? That is where theology can play an important role in constructing tomorrow’s society.

Gnôthi Seauton: “Know yourself”

 This Greek maxim was engraved on the front wall of the temple at Delphi, and became Socrates’ motto. It should be the point of departure for building tomorrow’s society. In order to prepare the future, we must consider the world we live in right now, and its historical roots; we must discover our own identity in order to commit to building the future.

In Canada, we must first acknowledge the importance of the First Nations. In a time when ecology and environment are such important issues, their spiritual heritage is an essential component of our society.

In the Western world, the Judeo– Christian tradition has long played a fundamental role. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, those of other faith traditions and non–believers alike often share values of peace, justice, love, and ethics. In our country, these values originated in the faith our ancestors implanted in what was to become Canada. In today’s world, very important issues confronting humanity can only benefit from a dialogue with the Judeo–Christian tradition.

Building a future full of hope, love, and justice Christian theology allows for a (re) discovery of the values that shape our past, our present and our future. Through the study of Scripture and tradition, theology helps its practitioners understand God’s true identity, the purpose of Creation, the possibility of living in a covenant with God, and the implications of this covenant on the individual, on the Church and on society. How does the risen Christ’s presence affect all sectors of human life?

Through a better understanding of the relationship of the Jewish people with other peoples, and of the interchange between Christianity and different cultures over the past two millennia, theologians are able to find ways to contribute to harmony in our world in a context of respect in order to promote God’s love and justice throughout the planet. In today’s world, one cannot study theology in isolation. Catholics are in dialogue with Eastern Churches and other Christian denominations; Christians are in dialogue with Jews and Muslims. Collaboration and exchange with other world religions and with agnostic thinkers are increasing. Theology prepares ordained ministers for service in the Church and the world, and certainly we need pastors driven by a sound theological vision; but theology does much more than prepare for ministry. Anyone who takes faith seriously and is committed to constructing a better world can benefit from studying theology.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)

Written by Yvan Mathieu, Saint Paul University.priest

Algonquin College Is Making Waves and Winning Awards

September 18, 2015 10:50 am

Cheryl Jensen is making an impact. JensebecamAlgonquin College’s eighth President just over one year ago in August, 2014. She brought 31 years of experience as a professor, dean and vice president and a reputation for  creating strategies that responded to both industry trends and to the needs of students, employees, alumni, and the community. She is a scientist and a Masters of Education and has a Certificate in the Metallurgy of Iron and Steel. Her vision and message to Algonquin faculty, students and the national  capital  region  was  about entrepreneurialism. In a speech last March in downtown Ottawa Jensen said that “becoming entrepreneurially minded is about embracing creativity, resilience, and resourcefulness and said that the entrepreneurial spirit is needed beyond the business world, in areas like government, health care, social services and education”. She noted that innovators take calculated risks and embrace change, all things needed to build business and an innovative economy.

Algonquin_CollegeJensen said that Algonquin is an example of how the entrepreneurial spirit can work. She said it’s getting harder to get provincial funding for programs, which puts the onus on colleges like Algonquin to figure out alternate ways to make money.“We are in the process of turning each school and department into its own business, with each unit leader having primary responsibility for profit and loss,” says Jensen. “Within this model, each dean and director is able to keep the profits they make annually so they can reinvest them in equipment and infrastructure they and their faculty deem critical to the success of their students.” Algonquin has also created an internal professional development institute to help its leaders learn how to become entrepreneurs in their field and is looking at ways to further monetize its areas of strength. Jensen notes that the college’s use of e-textbooks is an example of this practice in motion. She says that “by 2017, all Algonquin students will be using e-textbooks saving 50 per cent the cost of printed books”. This program is a collaborative one with the University of Ottawa, Kivuto and leading textbook publishers Pearson and Nelson and has caught the attention of The Canadian Federation of Students, who said this month that textbook costs have risen by 2.44 times the rate of inflation since 2008 across Canada as students grapple with the crisis of the cost of books.

In  keeping with  the entrepreneur and partnership theme, The College’s Faculty of Arts, Media, and Design has partnered  with Algonquin’s School of Business, to  launch  a new  Brand Management program which industry experts say “Canada needs”. The one-year Ontario College Graduate Certificate focuses on the intricacies of brand development and management from the industry and ad agency perspectives and teaches branding as distinct profession requiring specific skills. Students will interact with private sector brand managers and creative agencies through guest lecturers, site visits, and must submit a final brand consulting project for a real client.This new program comes on the heels of Algonquin College’s School of Media and Design winning the Top Award as the Outstanding Campus Newspaper by the Canadian Community Newspapers Association (CCNA).The Algonquin Times is entirely produced by the students of the Journalism and Advertising programs and financed through advertising sales with limited support from the Algonquin Students Association. Journalism students write the articles and take photos, while design student make the ads, produce the layout and the advertising students sell the ads.

Cheryl Jensen noted that “The School of Media and Design award is a testament to our belief in hands-on applied education. The national award is the pinnacle of achievement in student journalism and advertising. We at Algonquin College are truly proud of the students and professors in this program.

Understanding Communication

July 27, 2015 3:00 pm

By Professor Stephen A. Stuart

Photo Credit: Ryan McGuire

Philip Glass, arguably the most influential composer of the late 20th century, started his career with a question, “Where does music come from?” He spent the next six decades of his life trying to answer that question and, over the years ‘reformulated’ it as he strove, through experimentation and experience, to find the answer. In his own words, it eluded him, but his music serves as a testament to the value of his trying to make sense of the world. Music is a most powerful aspect of communication and yet, this key exponent of its evolution throughout the past 70 years, struggled to articulate a satisfactory response to his basic question. His journey to ‘enlightenment’ produced some magnificent music that resonates with audiences worldwide and stirs powerful emotions in those who hear it.

Most people won’t be familiar with the name Damien Chazelle, though many will have heard of his film Whiplash which received much praise and some criticism last year as it earned five Oscar nominations. A substantial part of the audience who has seen the movie will likely have moved on without reflecting on the essential human story that lies at the heart of the script. That story is the struggle to succeed against adversity and how the individual tries to exceed the expectations of others. The film uses various conventions to communicate this story, and the audience, more often than not, understands at least some of the intention of the filmmaker.

Music and movies are forms of communication that can transcend the boundaries of language and engage people in a dialogue about our shared human experience. They are eminently suited to our nascent digital world, where the Internet is changing the nature of human interactions in ways that are often unclear, with unintended outcomes.

Successful communication lies at the heart of the human experience. Without a means to convey our thoughts and emotions, our interpretation of reality, the intention of our actions, or the wherewithal to understand the perspective of others, society, as we know it, would not exist. Individually, we struggle to make sense of what it is to be human, and the relevance of our existence. On a collective level, we exchange meaning to negotiate the fluid and dynamic foundations of our civil society, and the ways in which our individual lives can be enriched, our shared existence enhanced. Our abilities to interpret all that we experience are enhanced by exposure to such communicative devices as music and film.

In the Social Communication program at Saint Paul University, we explore how meaning is created, communicated, and consumed in the digital age where media are increasingly disposable, and where technologies have enabled us all to become creators and consumers of meaning. We work closely with our students to critically examine and interpret the myriad facets of meaning that exist and reflect their various truths into a crowded and noisy communication environment. We show them the need to comprehend how the framing of meaning dynamically impacts understanding.


Embracing eTextbooks: The Future of Learning

July 24, 2015 12:30 pm
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Photo courtesy of Algonquin College

All the resources you need in just a click of a mouse—or a tap of a screen. Algonquin College is transforming education through the use of etextbooks.

Imagine having access to all the academic resources you needed for school in just a click of a mouse or the tap of a screen. All students, all resources, accessible all the time—that is the vision for Algonquin College’s etext initiative.

Back in January 2013, Algonquin partnered with the four major textbook publishers—Pearson, Nelson, McGraw-Hill and Wiley—and started a pilot project with six programs, involving about 750 students.

After great success, the initiative expanded from 23 programs and 3,400 students in the fall of 2013 to about 83 programs and just under 10,000 students in the fall of 2014. This fall etextbooks will be available for 130 programs, reaching 14,000 students.

Glenn MacDougall, director of learning and teaching services, says the goal is to go completely digital by fall 2016. “It’s all in. It’s just going to be what we do.”

Saving Money and Solving Problems
The program addresses the issues of accessibility and affordability.

“About half of our students are on student loan programs and about 25 per cent of our students don’t have all the paperwork sorted out by the time the fall semester starts,” MacDougall explains. “That doesn’t prevent them from starting college, but it does prevent them from going to the book store and buying their books.”

“We can let you in because we know the money is coming but you can’t go to the bookstore and promise to pay for your books later.”

Algonquin’s model for etextbooks changes that.

Digital textbook costs are included in the program fees, giving students access to all the resources they need right from day one, regardless of their ability to pay at that time.

Not only that, but the price of an etextbook is significantly less than a hard copy.

“In a two-year program, some of our students are spending somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000 just in textbooks. We have basically been able to reduce that cost by a good 40 per cent,” MacDougall explains.

“Last year, we deployed about $4 million worth of textbooks and in doing so, we saved the students a little over $2.5 million.”

But it is about more than cost. Digital textbooks offer students an interactive experience that a regular textbook can’t.

“With a digital textbook, because of the hyperlinks, you can bounce around back and forth, off into other sites, see things in alternate formats, so it is a much more personalized form of learning,” MacDougall explains.

It is not just a digital version of a hardcopy book.“They can do so much more.”

This also means improved accessibility.

“If a student arrived on our campus and they had a visual impairment, a hardcopy textbook wasn’t going to do them very much good. Historically, that has been their problem to solve.” MacDougall says.“We wanted that to be our problem to solve.”

“All of our books are accessible.You can increase the font size. The books will even read to you if you want them to—they come with a built-in audio feature.”

They can even be converted into braille.

The Future of Learning
And better access for all means better results.

“We are seeing a pattern now in those courses that are transitioned over to etext. Almost immediately, the very next year, course failure rates go down and our As and Bs go up,” MacDougall says.

This is the future of post-secondary learning.

Students can put a digital textbook on up to four different devices and it’s theirs for life.

“You’re not carrying around 60lbs of textbooks in a backpack. It doesn’t matter where you are, you reach into your pocket and there are your books,” MacDougall says.

Algonquin is currently working with nine other universities and colleges in Canada on similar pilot projects.

“I think we are going to see over the next few years, there are going to be a lot of changes in Canada in the way that resources are made available to students,” MacDougall says.

Algonquin is going to be a major part of making that happen.

To learn more about Algonquin’s etext initiative, click here.

Universities Play Key Role in Reconciliation

July 22, 2015 2:00 pm

The success is staggering. The number of Aboriginal people and communities using education as a means to a greater future is rising. It’s a cause for celebration.

Just 50 years ago, there were roughly 200 Status Indians taking courses at Canadian universities and colleges. In 2011, the number of self-identified Aboriginal people with a post- secondary qualification had grown to about 174,000. To say that Aboriginal students are embracing post-secondary education for a better future is an understatement. Getting more Aboriginal students in post-secondary studies has proven to be a tremendous success.

There is much more to celebrate. Over the past year, as part of the Aboriginal Pathways series, readers of this magazine have been treated to many stories of Aboriginal students and alumni who are successfully using their university education to improve the lives of all Canadians. These are intelligent, strong, creative individuals who are overcoming challenges and barriers. These are people who are turning the narrative about Aboriginal people and education away from the negative, and charting a new course based on positive transformation.

We may celebrate, but now is not the time to rest. Much work remains, as the 94 recommendations included in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s historic report make clear. The recommendations address a wide range of areas, with education characterized as a key element of reconciliation. Given the power universities have to inform policy, create curriculum, foster public discourse and transform individuals, communities and nations, it is clear that Canadian universities will play a key role in advancing the recommendations of the report while helping our society evolve and advance. And we will.

To achieve greater success in post- secondary education, Aboriginal students must first be provided greater opportunity to succeed from kindergarten to grade 12. Funding is a central concern. The shameful underfunding of reserve schools must be addressed and brought to a level commensurate with the rest of Canada.

With funding addressed, the curricular needs of Aboriginal students must be met. The power of Nipissing’s Schulich School of Education to train effective teachers is key. We must lead the charge in developing teachers who understand Aboriginal culture and can integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into their classrooms. It is our role to blaze a new path in developing curriculum that is culturally relevant and that will help future teachers better meet the needs of all their pupils.

Universities have the power to act as crucibles, where the sparks that affect societal change are introduced and begin to impact the worldview of students and graduates. The integration of indigenous knowledge and perspective into all facets of university life, including curricula, programs and services, build a deeper understanding of First Nation and Métis cultures within our institutions. This deeper understanding, wielded by our graduates working as educators, business leaders, nurses, social workers, police officers and more, will have a profound impact on the decolonization of society.

As my colleague, David T. Barnard, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manitoba wrote: “Universities fundamentally influence think tanks and community dialogues that shape policy development. When we see wrongs and untruths, we must fight against them; where there are people facing social injustices, we must stand up for them; and where there is racism, we must challenge it.”

There is a role for all Canadians to play in reconciliation. Our universities will play a leading role in the way forward. A great deal of success has been achieved to this point and there remains a great deal left to achieve. Much change is still required, but the way forward is clear and the future is bright.

unnamed-2By Mike DeGagné

Dr. Mike DeGagné is the president and vice-chancellor of Nipissing University

Take Time for Truth

May 15, 2015 12:43 pm

By Professor Richard Feist.

In his sonnets, Shakespeare pines over the sad fact that the great monuments we build in brass and stone—even the world’s boundless sea—are helpless before the onslaught of time. Time’s terrible hand will “blunt the lion’s paws” and “pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws.” Nothing escapes the ravages of time; our loved ones, someday, will be taken away from us.

What a “fearful meditation” Shakespeare calls such thoughts—and rightly so.

However, such freighted musings on time could be lightly leavened. My wife recently received a birthday card stating that because life was but a brief spark between dark eternities, get out there and buy those shoes.

Our time is more ravaging than Shakespeare’s. Through technological means we tamed much of nature, more so than Shakespeare would have known, but we have plunged into a different sound and fury. The modern technological tempest runs deep into our lives. In a finger’s snap we have gone from sporadically answering landline phones to frequently checking email and now incessantly texting on portable devices. We even had to pass a law prohibiting texting while driving, but how readily one spots drivers on any given day flouting the law.

There are many consequences of these days of distraction. Historians point out that today people read more than ever, but what they read is less complex and shorter. Who remembers phone numbers now? Publishers refuse long manuscripts while the population dines on sound bites and tweets. Technology’s assault on our attention spans is a kind of war, and as the old saw goes, the first casualty of war is truth.

Various outlets and venues vie for our attention, struggle to ensure that we see the world in a certain way, and insist on what the truth is. Thinking is one of the few things that one can be completely lazy about and still have done. If you refuse to think, there is always someone who will happily do it for you. Truth is similar since if you lack it, someone will always give you theirs.

Academics and advertisers know that distracted people are the easiest to convince. The more one does, the busier one is, the more susceptible one is to suggestion. This has not gone unnoticed outside the walls of academia and marketing. A few years ago the British Government set up a “Behavioural Insight Team”, nicknamed the “Nudge Unit”. Its job is to ascertain how to subtly influence busy citizens, by nudging them, to accomplish desired tasks. Nudging allows busy people to think that they are still completely in control of their own decisions. The Canadian Government is currently studying ways of having its own “Nudge Unit”.

This year Canadians will be nudged frequently. In the midst of our busy lives, we will be nudged to think in certain ways about deepening our involvement in the confrontation with ISIS, how much surveillance we should allow of our private lives and who will be our next government.

Nudging, the science of behavioural economics, is here to stay. We are influenced in more subtle ways than ever. There is no magic solution for combating all these nudges. But there is a simple, albeit old-fashioned one. Once in a while, one must put the cell phone down, back away slowly and take time to think, to get the facts and ponder them carefully. At Saint Paul University, a small, quiet place, we provide an oasis in which time, somehow, eases off a little and people have a chance to talk, to read and to think.

RichardFeist 2Professor Richard Feist. Associate professor. Faculty of Philosophy at Saint Paul University.

Faith Seeking Understanding

March 30, 2015 3:00 pm

To many people, the presence of a faculty of theology within a modern, public university seems, at best an odd anachronism, perhaps useful for the training of future priests or other religious professionals, but not much else. Since it should be obvious that religion is not going to disappear from the human scene in any foreseeable future – despite its regular but premature obituaries – might not the phenomenon of religion be better examined through Religious Studies, an avowedly non-confessional discipline? Religious Studies do, in fact, contribute enormously to an informed understanding of religion. What they do not and cannot do is include the dimension of belief itself. A faculty of theology is dedicated to critical reflection on faith. This could be any faith, though I write from the perspective of Christian faith. To use a classic expression, theology is “faith seeking understanding.”

Among the fruits of such a search is the university itself, an outgrowth during the Middle Ages of cathedral and monastic schools. People came to see the value to society as a whole of people whose expertise could solve difficult problems. But the university has never been merely a trade school. It has aimed at fostering people who are able to participate in intelligent public discourse. A university education cultivates a critical edge, an ability to discern between good, bad, relevant, and irrelevant arguments. It also fosters a breadth of vision that allows for a diversity of viewpoints and questions.

Christian theology has reflected deeply on the nature of knowledge itself. Thus, theologians have identified the questing, boundary-breaking quality of human intelligence as a key way in which our intelligence is a mirror of God’s intelligence. Our freedom to imagine and create new possibilities is akin to God’s own freedom. A perhaps still more astonishing claim is that our intelligence’s capacity to make connections, overcome divisions, achieve reconciliations is in fact related to love. Love, too, is all about connections and reconciliations. For Christian theology then, intellectual endeavour is a holistic one even as love’s desire is to take the widest, most generous view of context.

Not surprisingly, then, theology today is inevitably interdisciplinary. It draws on the insights of history, sociology, psychology, physics, etc. It raises questions and converses with other intellectual traditions and cultures. It is a dialogue partner with other great faith traditions. And in its own quest for self-understanding, it engages in faithful critique of its own tradition, not as some inert past, but as a crucial part of its own dynamic inner life.

Theology returns constantly to the question of what a meaningful human life entails. For example, in the face of neo-liberal ideologies that would reduce people to consumers, theology insists on a more holistic vision of the human person. If an argument is marked by reductively materialistic models, theology will ask “Why those questions? Why those presuppositions? Is this adequate to what human life really is?”

Much of our present life is founded on specialization, professionalism, and competition. These qualities have allowed for human wealth and mastery beyond the imagination of most of our forebears. What these qualities have lacked – as we are slowly and painfully coming to realize in the face of the environmental crisis around us – is an ability to recognize the complex web of relations between ecology, medicine, food, fuel and so forth. A theological vision attends to those connections. It resists the forces that would turn students into passive consumers, forming instead canny critics, capable of using their minds in their own defense against the numbing forces of consumerism and the vengeful manipulations of political populists.

Yes, theology continues to assist in the formation of servant leaders for the churches. But it does so primarily as a compelling way of seeing the world with a vision informed by love. Far from irrelevant or quaint, this is a vision as urgently necessary now as it has ever been.

kevin-flyynBy Kevin Flynn

Kevin Flynn is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Theology at Saint Paul University, Ottawa.

Education is Our Strongest Weapon

January 29, 2015 9:46 am

The day of the fatal shooting of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo on at the National War Memorial brought immense sadness to us at Saint Paul University, and we remain heavy-hearted and concerned. There was grief and heartbreak. Over the years, Saint Paul University has, with great pride, provided training and residential accommodation to members of the military. Some of them have trained to serve on the Memorial Guard. The tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a symbol of freedom. It is a nonpolitical and unconditional tribute to those who have put themselves on the line and have lost everything, so that we can live in a democratic society where all voices can be heard and respected. We continue to be proud today of all of those who put their lives on the line for our protection, values, and way of life. It fills us with pride when we see the many examples of the heroes who live quietly among us, but in our hour of need, rise to the occasion to protect us with all their might, and lest we forget those who gave everything they had. And yet, we also grieve for those who fall prey to radicalization and lose hope in the future, thinking that violence is the solution of choice.

These unfortunate events ultimately bring to us important questions regarding our role as an educational institution and what we can do to prevent such future tragedies. We strongly believe that education has a pivotal role to play in challenging and defeating radical ideas, whatever form these ideas might take. Radical positions, no matter what their nature (political, religious, identity-based), are skewed by a single unidimensional, and unexamined vision, preying on the incontrovertible human desire for meaning and the vulnerability to accept false promises of it packaged in violence and bloodshed.

This is where we must recognize the power of integrated education, an education that addresses the whole person and his or her place in the community and in the world. The power of critical thinking is the antidote to radical and unexamined ideas. As educators, we have the opportunity to give current and future generations the intellectual tools to examine social and political challenges of our times and to have the confidence to raise their voices asking for accountability, justice and change. In a democracy, these voices are louder and more powerful than a gun. As educators, we believe it is our role to prepare our students for more than an occupation, but to become true citizens of their communities and their nation. Democracy is an act of mutual respect for the perspective of the other. Democracy is not just about individual freedom but it about freedom for all, and hence lies the complexity of how to participate in a true democratic process. The implementation of democratic ideals requires discerning minds, shrewd analytical skills, and, by no means to be forgotten, a great respect for the voices of others. This respect stems out of the recognition that no one has the whole picture. We come from a rich tradition of dialogue between faith and reason, where critical thinking, even as applied to our religious faith, includes an awareness that we don’t know everything, which should lead to civic humility. It is ultimately a framework where no one is silenced. We must educate those who will take hold of the future and create a sense of community, citizenship, and responsibility.

beauvais-GuirguisChantal Beauvais is Rector, Saint Paul University. Manal Guirguis-Younger is the Dean of the Faculties of Human Sciences and Philosophy.


Integrative Education: The Ethical Citizen

January 13, 2015 3:32 pm

The usefulness of a Humanities and Social Sciences education has been questioned by students, the media, and the government. The criticism is the lack of specific, job driven training. In the eyes of some, the purpose of education is to provide a graduate with an advantage with respect to the job market. We, at Saint Paul University, regard education to be more than just preparing graduates for the work force . Our approach is an integrative model to education. We consider the Humanities and Social Sciences to be crucial for personal and societal development, and to be the basis of democratic processes.

In fact, they offer the development of intellectual skills necessary for a democratic and engaged society capable of assessing ethical choices and sustainable futures. These fields emphasize critical thinking, principles of analysis, and, methods of decision making. This is not a simple “content-transfer” learning model. It requires training the mind to evaluate in depth, to weigh positions, and to propose alternatives. Issues of ethics, values and meaning are embedded into the thinking modalities. Such intellectual training allows people to reason more clearly, perceive unintended consequences, and to understand in depth the rationale for complex decisions. These intellectual skills provide a way of being, where good judgement is practiced in the everyday world.

Instead of asking what job this leads to, we could ask what kind of person develops with this educational focus. The best result is a thoughtful, careful person who uses her or his intellectual capabilities to understand what is meaningful in a difficult situation, to weigh options, and to make ethical judgements regardless of their job. This is the power and effectiveness of integrative education. The Humanities and Social Sciences educate a person to become a socially responsible, ethical and engaged citizen.

Communities are essentially built by members who are educated in more than just the specific skills of their daily occupations. To put it concretely, we need doctors who are compassionate and humane, engineers who are aware of the impact of urbanization on animal habitat and the environment, farmers who understand ecology and the impact of political systems and markets on food securities and insecurities, and, computer engineers and web designers who understand the impact of rapidly changing technology, as well as the ethics of privacy, communication, and basic rights to safety and respect. We require politicians and leaders who understand the value of transparency and accountability in policy and governance. The list could be longer. It is the Humanities and Social Sciences that allow for the development of individuals with critical thinking skills necessary to understand and evaluate a complex world, with the ability to tackle the profound challenges of the present and future. These individuals can then become the engineers, doctors, and teachers who can apply these specific skills competently, and who have the courage and awareness to make responsible and ethical decisions within their occupational domains.

Eaton-GuirguisHeather Eaton is a professor and Manal Guirguis-Younger is the Dean in the Faculty of Human Sciences, Saint Paul University.

Honouring Dr. Sidlauskas on Her 100th Birthday

February 14, 2014 10:04 am
doc 100

Have you ever used the term “If I live to 100”? Well, for Dr. Agatha Sidlauskas, founder of Venta Preparatory School in Carp, that is no longer an “if”. Last Wednesday, February 5th, Dr. Sidlauskas, affectionately known as Doc to all the staff and students at Venta Preparatory School, celebrated her 100th birthday.

Hers has been a long and storied life. Born a few months before the beginning of World War 1, her life has spanned the history of the 20th Century. Doc was born in 1914 and raised in Lithuania. In 1940 she escaped her homeland, which had been occupied by the USSR, thanks to the generosity and protection of her then employer – the Ambassador of Italy. Already firmly on the radar of the KGB, had she not escaped, her fate would have been the same as that of 800,000 of her compatriots: arrest and exile to Siberia. Returning to Italy, where she had studied psychology before the war, she completed her PhD in Child Psychology in 1943.

In 1948 Doc immigrated to Canada arriving in Montreal with the status of ‘Displaced Person’. She first worked in Montreal as a domestic. By 1951 she had secured a teaching position at the University of Ottawa where she remained on the academic staff until her retirement from the university in 1979. In 1958 she had purchased an old farm in Carp which she turned into Camp Venta for the children at the Child Study Centre of the university. She founded Venta Preparatory School in 1981, renovating the camp facility into a small boarding school. By 1990 the community around the school had grown and local children started attending Venta as day students.

Dr. Sidlauskas was principal of Venta until 1994 when she was 80! Despite her 100 years, Doc is still actively involved in the school. She knows each and every student and she still supervises the assessment of all the children who are applying to the school. Happy Birthday Doc. You are an inspiration to us all!

Multiple Peoples, Multiple Problems, Several Solutions

May 29, 2013 1:51 pm

Most Canadians are in favour of good quality education for Canadian children. Good education contributes to good jobs, good income, good health and good lifestyles, all of which are positive forces in society. But for mystifying reasons, kids who grow up on First Nations reserves are given far fewer chances for a reasonable education. Their schools, teachers, supplies and other needs are funded at a fraction of what non-reserve students receive through the provinces or territories.

Poor schooling for children on reserves in Canada has been largely overlooked as an issue until very recently, but now questions are being asked. Is it a discriminatory policy? Education funds come from the department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AANDC), not from provincial or territorial governments via school boards, like in the rest of the country. This policy has direct impacts on Canada’s fastest-growing demographic group, Aboriginal persons under age 25.

The problem of education on reserves is compounded by many other factors that can create a disadvantaged population. Some of those factors include health gaps, poverty, remote locations, attracting and retaining good teachers and negative legacies of the dependency model. Those problems are determinants which have profound impacts on a child’s education. A further issue is the deteriorating condition of many schools on reserves, as highlighted recently by youth leaders in Northern Ontario and Quebec. The populations in Canada which may already face barriers due to race and long-standing societal factors are also expected to accept less.

How much less? “Federal expenditures in education for Aboriginal students remains at 2 per cent,” says Paul Taillefer, President of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF). “(That) is $2,000 to $3,000 less per pupil than public school provincial and territorial budgets.” Taillefer was recently told that the federal government is developing a new Education Act which may be presented to the House of Commons in the fall, but the process may be too slow to benefit the kids who need and want it now.

While other young Canadians may pine for an Xbox, a better school was the dream of Shannen Koostachin of Attawapiskat. At age 13, she campaigned for “safe and comfy schools and culturally-based education” for First Nations children and youth.  Says Taillefer, “She was not campaigning just for a ‘comfy’ school.” He says Shannen wanted a school that was also safe. Many schools have major health issues. These include extreme black mould contamination, which can cause serious respiratory illnesses; high carbon dioxide levels; rodent and reptile infestations; sewage fumes; and unheated portables.

Across Canada, parents and students often register complaints about portables, but they are a reality, partly because of their flexibility as school enrollment numbers go up and down. But not many Canadian communities would accept portables without heat, especially considering the parts of the country where they are often located, places where -40 C and -50 C are normal winter temperatures and cold snaps can last for weeks.

But even Aboriginal students in warmer climes suffer. “I worked at the Squamish Nation School,” says Dr. Cindy Blackstock, Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFCS), and outspoken proponent of equality for children. “Those kids got far less funding than the school across the street.”

In 2007, on behalf of the FNCFCS and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), she brought a formal complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. She still feels outrage that these extreme measures have to be taken.  Her voice determined, she adds, “These are little kids who haven’t done anything—they just want to grow up.” The inequities go deep, she says, citing numerous cases. “Racial discrimination against children is an acceptable fiscal restraint policy by the Government of Canada.”

"These are little kids who haven’t done anything—they just want to grow up." – Dr. Cindy Blackstock, Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society

“These are little kids who haven’t done anything—they just want to grow up.” – Dr. Cindy Blackstock,
Director of the First Nations Child
and Family Caring Society

CTF president Taillefer says, “Besides receiving less funding per student, these communities do not receive
funds for libraries, computers, languages or extracurricular activities.”  That is one of the platforms of Shannen’s Dream, an organization started after Shannen Koostachin’s tragic death in an accident. The young girl, barely in her teens, came to Ottawa in 2008 to meet with MP Chuck Strahl, who was then minister responsible for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. Her campaign was prompted by the minister’s earlier announcement that Attawapiskat would not be getting a new school because it was not part of the Long-Term Five-Year Capital Plan.

The previous school had been contaminated by a fuel spill two decades earlier. After years of stalling, the unusable school was replaced with “temporary” portables. The community lobbied for a new school, which seemed like a reasonable expectation. AANDC even provided $194,718 in 2006-2007 to prepare a School Capital Planning Study.

Why was that federal money spent if there were no plans to provide a school? And why, after Attawapiskat had prepared and presented a proposal for a bank loan to provide bridge financing, did AANDC refuse to commit to this alternative financing? The community had done the extensive paperwork, had talked to the banks, had put a plan in place, and had acted in good faith. Documents from Strahl, received through Freedom of Information, say AANDC could not commit because, “Treasury Board approval of the project had not been granted.” Which begs the question, is the federal Treasury Board the appropriate department to be making decisions on small communities’ schools?”

NDP MP Charlie Angus took up the issue and media attention increased. The department’s response was to spend a great deal of time and money on public relations damage control, including hiring PR firm Hill & Knowlton. Seven years later, Attawapiskat remains in the news, as do other communities nearby.

It appears the federal government is still practising damage control. In March 2013, a statement by MP  Bernard Valcourt, current Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, says, “Since 2006, the Harper Government has built over 30 new schools and renovated over 200 more, providing First Nation youth with better learning environments.” Blackstock refutes those claims. “Most Canadians would think, even I thought, well that sounds good. But on closer inspection they’ve just rejigged some numbers.”

A common comment among individuals who have come from provincial school systems and later worked in the North or on reserves, is that even when teens successfully graduate from high school they are not prepared for post-secondary education. Some students must redo many of their high school credits, because the education they received is not equivalent with other high schools’ courses, and so are not adequate prerequisites for universities and colleges. How many teenagers can stomach the idea of another two years of high school courses before they can even start university? The increased likelihood of coming from a low-income family and having to live very far from home compounds the problem.

What if provinces or territories top-ped up federal funding? That opens the competitive can of jurisdictional worms, which is a huge problem across F/P/T mandates. Assuming politics prevents that change, what about simply levelling the playing field? Give the kids on reserves the same funding that everyone else in the country receives. Some of the schools and programs are so far behind they should really get more just to get caught up, but equality would be a start.

Should education funding be removed from federal responsibility completely? Would it make more sense for all schools to receive all funding through the provinces or territories where they are located? The federal government could provide transfer payments, and along the way get rid of almost half of AANDC, a department of which many Canadians question its continued existence. Local school boards are positioned to understand students’ needs, and there is the advantage of having local representation in the form of elected trustees. Is it reasonable to expect the highest level of government to keep tabs on individual communities’ education needs?


MP Charlie Angus and supporters of Shannen’s Dream (June 2012)

Cultural barriers can sometimes be in the way too. Many closed or remote communities have a culture which scorns members who want to live a different life or have aspirations for new careers. That culture can make achieving those goals difficult. For example, in many Hutterite colonies, children only attend their own school, which usually goes to Grade 8, making it hard to get away. It can be the same in remote communities, most of which are Aboriginal. Young adults who do manage to go away to school or to get a good job might be ostracized when they come home. MP Dr. Carolyn Bennett, former Minister of State for the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and current Liberal Aboriginal affairs critic, says protection comes in numbers. “They need a posse,” she says. “There has to be enough of them so that they’re not lonely and then they’re less easy to ostracize.”

Before becoming an MP, Dr. Bennett was a medical practitioner and had also worked in the Northwest Territories. She said health determinants combined with poor housing conditions contribute to the education issue. “If 12 people live in one small house with no running water, the kids have no privacy, they can’t do homework, and they get sick. Sometimes schools on reserves are closed because there are no students — they’re all sick.” She also worries about teen parents, especially girls, for whom education goes to the bottom of the priority list when they are wrapped up in caring for babies and trying to find enough money to live. She says the structure of health care, with its emphasis on curing disease, rather than preventing it, is part of the problem. “We’re patching up and that’s failing. We need to embrace the medicine wheel concept. To stay healthy, we need physical, emotional and spiritual health.”

That relates to another issue—family members struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, or with serious medical problems of their own, such as diabetes or tuberculosis. What if no one gets the kids out the door in the morning? Some communities have started addressing that by finding someone who physically goes to the children’s homes and gets them on their way. Also providing breakfast at school is becoming a policy at many schools, both on and off reserve. It is well known that kids learn better if they’re not weakened and distracted by empty stomachs.

The story of the non school in Attawapiskat has been repeated in First Nations’ communities across the country.  Contrary to perceptions held by some Canadians that Aboriginal people don’t make an effort, or that the youth of today are lazy or unmotivated, it is young people who are making their voices heard.

The Journey of Nishiyuu is the most extreme example of that. In January 2013, seven young Cree men:  David Kawapit Jr., Stanley George Jr., Travis George, Johnny Abraham, Raymond Kawapit, Gordie Rupert, and Jordon Masty started walking from the coast of Hudson’s Bay all the way to Ottawa. And they started in January. Pulling their own supplies on toboggans, these young people, these kids, did something akin to the journeys of Terry Fox or Rick Hansen. Along the way they picked up more walkers and were finally greeted by thousands of people in Ottawa, although not the Prime Minister.

Such a feat of strength, courage and deep understanding of the land being traversed is not undertaken lightly. Campaigning for better schools is part of the Idle No More movement and part of why these youths walked.

Teenagers don’t walk 1600 kilometres during the coldest part of winter because things are going great at home. If nothing else makes the country take a second look at First Nations education, that should.


Empowerment Programs Bolster Girls’ Self-esteem and Leadership

March 27, 2013 11:20 am
Saman Ahsan 2

By Saman Ahsan

 As Canadian girls grow up, they’re told time and again that they can be whoever they want to be. The reality is far less ideal.

A national report released this month on the main issues facing girls in Canada shows that despite having more educational opportunities than ever, many girls still confront violence and low self-esteem – sometimes with grave consequences.

According to the report, commissioned by Status of Women Canada and undertaken by the non-profit Girls Action Foundation, startling proportions of Canadian girls grapple with self-harm, dating violence, harassment and negative body image.

The study highlights that girls’ confidence drops more dramatically than that of boys in their teen years. Girls are using more drugs and alcohol than they did in past decades, and girls aged 10 to 14 are five times more likely than boys to end up in the hospital for trying to commit suicide. A fifth of teen girls in British Columbia have intentionally inflicted self-injury.

The well-being of girls should be a national concern.

Self-esteem is a major issue, according to recent research. Among grade 6 to 10 girls who think they are too fat, only half are actually overweight. What’s more, a tenth of Ontario teen girls think they are “no good at all.”

Self-esteem is influenced by hidden messages about how girls should look and act, and these messages are delivered by parents, peers and media.

Girls who don’t fit in or who are marginalized in some way, such as Indigenous, racialized or lesbian and bisexual girls, are at even greater risk of emotional distress, suicide attempts and victimization.

Today’s girls are facing more pressure from more sources to be good, smart, helpful, sexy and liberated all at the same time. On top of that, racialized girls and Indigenous girls have to cope with stereotypes about their race. Sound confusing? It is.

Girls with low self-esteem can feel pressured to have sex earlier. More than a quarter of Ontario high school girls in a recent study admitted someone had pressured them into a sexual act they didn’t want to do.

Girls also cope with more subtle forms of violence that go unnoticed. Sexual comments in the hallways and bullying may be more than playful banter. “Boys will be boys,” we might say to explain it away. But consider that one-quarter of Canadian girls say they don’t feel safe at school.

Once they find school unbearable, girls who fall between the cracks often fall hard in life. Girls who drop out before high school grow up to make about half the average income of male dropouts.

Beyond these shocking facts is inspiring evidence of resilience, like the fact that immigrant girls are more likely to stay in school than their Canadian-born counterparts, even as they encounter bullying and discrimination.

Investing in girls pays off. Think of the economic contributions that more empowered girls will make, and the innovative solutions they will create as tomorrow’s leaders. Plus, the costs to society of poor mental health and violence are weighty. For example, childhood sexual abuse, which inordinately affects girls, costs Canada an estimated $3.7 billion annually.

What’s the solution? We have to change the world in which girls are growing up, as well as empower them to be agents of change themselves.

We can’t gloss over the real challenges in girls’ lives by believing higher self-esteem will solve everything. Policies and programs to improve kids’ mental health and reduce violence must take girls into account.

We need more safe spaces for girls in our communities where they can discover their strengths. Girls tend to internalize their difficulties, but in well-designed girls’ groups, they learn that they are not alone and gain inspiration to create change. Research shows that girls-only programs that focus on assets and skills are far more effective than just reminding girls of the risks before them.

Critical thinking is perhaps the best tool a girl can gain, so that she can uncover hidden messages about what a girl or woman is supposed to be. If provided with positive role models and given the chance to raise their voices in their communities, girls can grow into their full potential.

Girls can be whatever they want to be. Empowered girls will help make Canada’s communities, economy and environment even more healthy, fair and secure.

But first, we must lower the hurdles that stand in their way and give them the room to run.

Saman Ahsan is Executive Director of Girls Action Foundation, a national non-profit that has been advancing girls’ empowerment since 1995. Ms. Ahsan has worked passionately for girls’ empowerment in her native Pakistan and her adopted Canada. Follow Girls Action on twitter at: @_GirlsAction



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