The fastest growing segment of Canada’s population is Aboriginal children, who enter the education system with a unique culture and diverse set of needs. Early childhood educators sensitive to those needs can make a significant impact on the lives of children, their families and communities.

Enter the newest collaborative program supported by BCcampus: Aboriginal Early Childhood Education (AECE).

Alice Winkel, M.Ed. is the AECE program coordinator for the College of New Caledonia (CNC). “Many isolated Aboriginal communities are struggling to keep their child care centres open because of the need for qualified workers,” she says. “There is a misconception that there isn’t a need for day care in Aboriginal communities, but children need positive educational experiences from a young age – and experiences based on their own culture.”

The AECE program is focused on Aboriginal children and is delivered over the Internet, providing remote access to learners. Winkel explains that the mainstream Early Childhood Education program was previously delivered to remote communities as a face-to-face program. However, small enrolments and difficulty attracting instructors willing to fly to remote areas posed challenges. In response to these challenges and the need to address the needs of Aboriginal children, CNC developed an online Aboriginal program and invited other institutions to participate in a collaborative delivery model.

“The advantage to delivering this program as a collaborative is that the institutions can combine their resources to enhance the curriculum and share delivery costs.” says Dr. Lynn Jacques, Vice-President Academic, at CNC. “An individual post-secondary institution has limited resources to reach out to the large numbers of dispersed communities in its region. However, several institutions working together have a unique opportunity to accommodate small numbers of students in one particular location.”

Although anyone can register for the AECE courses, its cultural focus acknowledges the importance to Aboriginal communities of having their own people caring for their children. “There’s no one ‘Aboriginal education.’ Aboriginal communities are diverse,” says Winkel. “The student is the expert in the cultural content of the AECE program – that’s why students are expected to teach the cultural component of the program to each other. Aboriginal students are asked to share their own experiences, stories and experts from their own communities. Non-Aboriginal students are expected to develop relationships with people in Aboriginal communities, and share those resources with others in the program.”

The AECE has approximately 20 full- and part-time students enrolled in courses with the College of New Caledonia, Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, Northern Lights College, and Yukon College as the current partners. CNC will begin its third year of delivery in September 2010. Northern Lights College will also start offering courses in September 2010, and the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) is targeting a start in January 2011.

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