Implementing the General Education Development (GED) Program in First Nations Communities: Struggles for Power


  • Tracy Jill Shields Lakehead University
  • Wayne Melville Lakehead University



upgrading, First Nations, power, General Education Development (GED), at-risk, Mots clés, amélioration des compétences, Premières Nations, pouvoir, programme de formation générale (GED), à risque


This paper describes an ethnographic case study of eleven First Nations adult learners in a Northern Ontario community attempting to earn secondary school equivalency through the General Education Development (GED) program. The paper maintains a focus on the power differentials at work in both the learners' prior educational endeavours and their experiences while working inside of the GED program. Based on the data, we argue that, despite appearances to the contrary, First Nations learners are subjected to a system of education that is failing to empower those learners to take advantage of educational opportunities that are available in mainstream Canadian society.

Cet article décrit une étude ethnographique de cas auprès de onze apprenants adultes autochtones qui tentent, dans une communauté du Nord de l’Ontario, d’obtenir une équivalence d’études secondaires par des cours de formation générale (GED). Plus précisément, l’article porte sur les écarts systémiques de pouvoir qui entrent en ligne de compte tant dans les études préalables des apprenants que dans leurs expériences avec le programme GED. En s’appuyant sur les données, nous affirmons que, même si les apparences peuvent laisser supposer le contraire, les apprenants autochtones sont soumis à un système d’éducation qui ne réussit pas à les doter des compétences nécessaires pour saisir les possibilités éducatives offertes par la société canadienne.

Author Biographies

Tracy Jill Shields, Lakehead University

Tracy Shields has been working with marginalized learners for 30 years. She began by teaching at Seneca College in their electronics department full time for eleven years, working with college students from Toronto’s most impoverished district. After returning to university to earn her electrical engineering degree, Ms. Shields wrote workbooks for teachers based on the software program Multisim for National Instruments. These workbooks continue to be used globally, including throughout China. Most recently, she has worked with Indigenous learners from remote communities comparing three different upgrading programs in the process. Her masters and doctoral research is in the area of cross-cultural partnership organizations and the empowerment of adult learners. Ms. Shields boasts an extensive understanding of the practical characteristics of marginalized learning, both through her experience and graduate work. She holds a master’s in education. Ms. Shields is expected to graduate from Lakehead University’s doctoral education program in March of 2016. Ms. Shields has presented papers at conferences in Grahamstown, South Africa, Busan, Korea, Herceg Novi, Montenegro, Kunming, China, Halifax, Canada, and St. Catherines, Canada, predominantly in the area of mathematics education for marginalized people. She currently teaches in and directs the upgrading program for Confederation College out of Geraldton, Canada. 

Wayne Melville, Lakehead University

Dr. Wayne Melville, a leading expert in science education, has been a faculty member at Lakehead University since 2005 and previously taught secondary school in Australia for 17 years while completing doctoral studies part-time. Dr. Melville is Assistant to the Dean and Associate Professor in education, and graduate studies in research, at Lakehead University, specializing in science departments, professional learning, and inquiry. He has seven recent publications including his book Professional Learning in a School-Based Community of Science Teachers. Dr. Melville has taught Curriculum and Instruction in Biology, Curriculum and Instruction in General Science, Researching in Education, and Qualitative Research in Education.




How to Cite

Shields, T. J., & Melville, W. (2016). Implementing the General Education Development (GED) Program in First Nations Communities: Struggles for Power. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 61(2), 209–225.