OISE alum empowers Indigenous learners in Canadian and Tibetan communities

January 5, 2019
OISE logo on a University of Toronto blue background.

We interviewed Karma M. Chukdong, a passionate educator and scholar of Indigenous education, to discuss his work and how OISE has supported his journey. 

Can you share some highlights from your career? How have your degrees helped shape this path?

There have been quite a few highlights in my career thus far. After taking the Bachelor of Education at OISE, I served two remote fly-in communities in northern Ontario as a fulltime teacher. I was empowered with knowledge and qualifications to really make an impact.

After serving these communities for one month, I realized that our Ontario curriculum did not mesh very well with the everyday realities of our Oji-Cree First Nation students. With the skills I learned at OISE, I was able to adapt my daily lesson plans and long-term plans to a more Indigenized curriculum.

With my Tibetan background and heritage, I was especially cognizant of the importance of my role to empower Indigenous learners. But I was feeling burnt out after one year of this intensive Indigenous delivery. What kept me going were the measurable outcomes: student attendance was the best on record for the school, and everyone graduated.

After another year of serving a different First Nations remote fly-in community, I decided to build upon my previous studies with OISE’s Doctor of Education program. My goal was to build a concrete Indigenous curriculum with advice from specialists and mentors from around the academic world.

I am proud to have brought a new perspective to the OISE community with my ideas and discussions about Indigenous issues. I applied a post-colonial, structural functionalist and critical pedagogical lens to my studies and attained great success in the program.

When funding became an issue in my third year, I transferred to one of OISE’s Master of Education courses. Because I already completed several doctoral level courses, I graduated from the MEd program that same year. I now hold two master degrees and a BEd from OISE.

What sets OISE apart from other faculties of education?

In my view, OISE is the best institution of education because of the expertise of its faculty members, the resources available to students and the library, which has the largest collection of education materials in Canada. These were vital factors that helped me excel.

Can you share a favourite memory from your time at OISE?

My favourite memory at OISE was when I joined the intramural basketball team. I played and competed for the Ontario Basketball Association in the past, so my skills were still up to par. We ended up beating U of T’s Physical Education department by 40 pts. We playfully joked to their team that they were beat by a bunch of teachers!

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment, personally and professionally?

Personally, my greatest achievement has been connecting to my Indigenous Tibetan identity, and now feeling secure in both this identity and with my contemporary perspectives–essentially, embracing this two-world dichotomy.

Professionally, my greatest achievement is the ongoing work I do in my career to enable Indigenous empowerment for our learners in Canada, and to help Tibetans who will one day return to a free Tibet. The Institute has not only qualified me but empowered me to serve Indigenous communities in Canada and Tibet, so that these communities can reclaim self-determination, control and power of their own educational, economical, and political systems: this is Post-Colonial thought today. I have also published three academic texts on school improvement strategies for today.

What advice would you give to students currently attending OISE for their academic pursuits?

OISE will seem daunting at first. What will make your transition easier is to find an accepted scholar who speaks to your views, concerns and passions in education. For me, I discovered Paulo Freire late in my first year, and the ‘lights’ went on; I finally felt I was fit for this academic space. I would quote Freire in lectures and I felt like my professors could connect with me through these ideas. There were many other scholars as well, but to make your voice heard clearly in your papers and in classroom sessions, find your academic lens through a specific scholar and from there your time at OISE will soar.

With OISE I can...

"Help empower others the way OISE empowered me."

You can purchase Karma’s books on a range of educational leadership and school improvement topics on Amazon.

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