Leading edge research triggers new masters program in education

June 23, 2005, vol. 33, no. 5
By Carol Thorbes

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Leading edge, culturally sensitive research on education at SFU has caught the eye of the provincial government and spawned a new master of education program.

The provincial deputy minister of advanced education Philip Steenkamp recently met with several members of SFU's academic community, including President Michael Stevenson, dean of education Paul Shaker and dean of arts John Pierce.

One of the many issues they discussed was the progress of education professor Mark Fettes' federally funded project Learning for understanding through culturally inclusive imaginative development (LUCID).

Fettes and other researchers in the education faculty's Imaginative Education Research Group (IERG) are studying the application of education professor Kieran Egan's imaginative learning theory in schools with a high First Nations student population.

Egan, the founder of IERG, has developed courses and teaching strategies based on his theory that students learn best when subject matter triggers their emotions by engaging their imagination.

Fettes and his collaborators are working with First Nations education leaders, and 26 aboriginal and non-aboriginal teachers in three B.C. school districts to integrate Egan's theory in classroom practice.

Fettes' team is trying to integrate aboriginal knowledge, values, perspectives and history into a mainstream, imagination-based curriculum.

The team presented Steenkamp with its latest findings. “Culturally sensitive, imagination-based learning can lead to greater enthusiasm and energy for learning among children, especially those from a marginalized cultural group who show little interest in the mainstream curriculum,” says Fettes.

“Teachers say that they enjoy using imagination-based teaching strategies more than other strategies, and that this project has helped them develop a greater appreciation of how First Nations culture and knowledge can enrich classroom learning.”

The project's success has prompted Fettes' team to design a two-year off-campus master of education program. So far 19 teachers, including those in Fettes' project, and other educators in their school districts, are enrolled in the degree program.

Steenkamp has asked Fettes' team to keep him informed of the project's development. “The deputy minister sees it as being potentially very instrumental in increasing aboriginal high school graduation rates and participation in higher education,” explains Fettes. Studies show that just 42 per cent of 18 year old B.C. aboriginals complete high school compared to 79 per cent of their non-aboriginal counterparts. For more information about LUCID see: www.ierg.net/lucid/.

Steenkamp and Emery Dosdall, the provincial deputy minister of education, will attend the faculty of education's third annual international conference on imagination and education, where Fettes' research will be presented.

The conference, featuring Max Wyman, one of Canada's leading cultural journalists, as the keynote speaker, takes place from July 13-16.

Check www3.educ.sfu.ca/conferences/ierg2005/.

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