Education for Aboriginal Learners: Challenges and Suggestions as Perceived by School Principals


  • Jane Preston University of Prince Edward Island
  • Tim Claypool University of Saskatchewan
  • Brenda Green Saskatoon Public School Division
  • William Rowluck University of Saskatchewan
  • Jill Martin University of Prince Edward Island


According to school principals, the purpose of this paper is to identify issues that negatively influence the educational experience of Aboriginal students and to offer real-life examples focused on addressing these challenges.  This qualitative multi-case study encapsulates 14 semi-structured individual interviews conducted with five Saskatchewan principals and four Prince Edward Island principals. From the perspective of nine shcool principals, challenges were pedagogical and curricular issues, student transition and attendance, the legacy of residential schools and other parental issues, and financial resource issues. Implications of the study pertain to professional development of teachers and hiring procedures of school districts.

Author Biographies

Jane Preston, University of Prince Edward Island

Faculty of Education

Assistant Professor

Tim Claypool, University of Saskatchewan

Department of Educational Psychology and Special Education

Associate Professor

Brenda Green, Saskatoon Public School Division


William Rowluck, University of Saskatchewan

Graduate Student

Research Assistant

Jill Martin, University of Prince Edward Island

Graduate Student

Research Assistant


Aikenhead, G., & Michell, H. (2011). Bridging cultures: Indigenous and scientific ways of knowing nature. Toronto, ON: Pearson.

Archibald, J. (2008). Indigenous storywork: Educating the heart, mind, body, and spirit. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Barbour, R. S., & Schostak, J. (2011). Interviewing and focus groups. In B. Somekh & C. Lewin (Eds). Theory and methods in social research (2nd ed., pp. 61–68). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Barnes, R., Josefowitz, N., & Cole, E. (2006). Residential schools: Impact on Aboriginal students’ academic and cognitive development. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 21(1/2), 18–32.

Battiste, M. (2008). Research ethics for protecting Indigenous knowledge and heritage: Institutional and researcher responsibilities. In N. K. Denzin, Y. S. Lincoln, & L. T. Smith (Eds.), Handbook of critical and Indigenous methodologies (pp. 497–509). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Battiste, M. (2013). Decolonizing education: Nourishing the learning spirit. Saskatoon, SK: Purich

Chilisa, B. (2012). Indigenous research methodologies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Clark, A. A., Spanierman, L. B., Kleiman, S., Isaac, P., & Poolokasingham, G. (2014). “Do you live in a tepee?” Aboriginal students experiences with racial microagressions in Canada. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 7(2) 112–125. doi:10.1037/a0036573

Claypool, T., & Preston, J. P. (2011). Redefining learning and assessment practices impacting Aboriginal students: Considering Aboriginal priorities via Aboriginal and Western worldviews. in education, 17(3), 84–95.

Deer, F. (2013). Integrating Aboriginal perspectives in education: Perceptions of pre-service teachers. Canadian Journal of Education, 36(2), 175–211.

Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds.). (2000). Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds.). (2011). The Sage handbook of qualitative research (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

de Plevitz, L. (2007). Systemic racism: The hidden barrier to educational success for Indigenous school students. Australian Journal of Education, 51(1) 54–71.

Desroches, J. (2005). Aboriginal education programs in British Columbia’s public school system and their relation to Aboriginal student school completion. (Doctoral dissertation). Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC.

Flyvbjerg, B. (2011). Case study. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (4th ed., pp. 301–316). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Gray, J., & Beresford, Q. (2008). A formidable challenge: Australia’s quest for equity in Indigenous education. Australian Journal of Education, 52(2), 197–223.

Griffee, D. T. (2005). Research tips: Interview data collection. Journal of Developmental Education, 28(3), 36–37.

Kanu, Y. (2011). Integrating Aboriginal perspectives into the school curriculum: Purposes, possibilities, and challenges. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Kitchen, J., Cherubini, L., Trudeau, L., & Hodson, J. (2010). Weeding out or developing capacity? Challenges for Aboriginal teacher education. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 56(2), 107–123.

Kovach, M. (2009). Indigenous methodologies: Characteristics, conversations, and contexts. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Miles, M. B., Huberman, A. M., & Saldaña, J. (2014). Qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook (3rd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Mills, C. (2013). Developing pedagogies in pre-service teachers to cater for diversity: Challenges and ways forward in initial teacher education. International Journal of Pedagogy and Learning, 8(3), 219–228.

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2014). Education at a glance 2014: OECD indicators. Retrieved from

Patton, M. Q. (2015). Qualitative research and evaluation methods: Integrating theory and practice (4th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Peräkylä, A., & Ruusuvuori, J. (2011). Analyzing talk and text. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (4th ed., pp. 529–539). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Ponterotto, J. G., & Grieger, I. (2007). Effectively communicating qualitative research. The Counseling Psychologist, 35(3), 404–430.

Preston, J. P. (2008). The urgency of postsecondary education for Aboriginal peoples. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, November (86), 1–22.

Preston, J. P. (2014, October). Fostering the educational success of off-reserve Aboriginal learners on Prince Edward Island. Charlottetown, PE: Urban Aboriginal Knowledge Network and the Native Council of Prince Edward Island.

Preston, J. P., & Claypool, T. R. (2013, December). Motivators of educational success: Perceptions of Grade 12 Aboriginal students. Canadian Journal of Education, 36(4), 257–279.

Preston, J. P., Cottrell, M., Pelletier, T. R., Pearce, J. V. (2012). Aboriginal early childhood education in Canada: Issues of context. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 10(1), 3–18.

Richard, J. (2008). Closing the Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal gaps. Toronto, ON: C.D. Howe Institute.

Smith, L. T. (2012). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and Indigenous peoples. London, England. Zed Books.

St. Denis, V. (2010). A study of Aboriginal teachers’ professional knowledge and experience in Canadian public schools. Toronto, ON: Canadian Teachers’ Federation and Canadian Council on Learning.

Stake, R. E. (2005). Qualitative case study. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed., pp. 443–466). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Stake, R. E. (2010). Qualitative case studies. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Strategies of qualitative research (3rd ed., pp. 119–149). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Statistics Canada. (2013). Aboriginal peoples in Canada: First Nations people, Metis, and Inuit: National Household Survey, 2011. Ottawa, ON: Author. Retrieved from

Tuharsky, J., Buisson, N., Burns, S., Britton, C., Enion, G. (2005). Addressing challenges that impede the success of Aboriginal students at Cochrane High School. Saskatoon, SK: Dr. Stirling McDowell Foundation for Research into Teaching.

Wimmer, R., Legare, L., Arcand, Y., & Cottrell, M. (2009). Experience of beginning Aboriginal teachers in band-controlled schools. Canadian Journal of Education, 32(4), 817–849.

Yin, R. K. (2014). Case study research: Design and methods (5th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.