Youth perspectives of schooling in a Northern-Ontario community
In Ontario, northern, rural youth face disadvantages due to their geographic location, as the majority of students attending high school, if not relocated to another community for their studies, must endure daily commutes ranging from 60 to 130 kilometers in order to attend classes. Yet, student-youths’ perspectives on how their geographic location influences their schooling experiences are currently absent from our understanding of educational equity in northern, rural contexts. While the literature on northern, rural education has focused almost exclusively on teacher, leadership and community perspectives, this study utilized a critical consciousness framework and interpretative phenomenology analysis with photovoice methods to explore youths’ perceptions of rural education. Five participants shared their thoughts and experiences through photovoice, individual interviews and focus groups to explore their rural educational experiences. The objective of this study was to illuminate the barriers to educational success from an equity standpoint and to explore innovative approaches with photovoice to capitalize on the strengths of these students in order to address disparities and to create opportunities for change in educational policy and practice. The findings highlighted some of the ways in which spatial, socio-cultural and physical obstacles to learning affect youth development while emphasizing how the school's climate and teachers contribute to fostering educational equity and a sense of belonging. Findings also revealed that youth encounter numerous challenges in their pursuit of secondary education. However, they manage to overcome these obstacles through the support of their schools, which serve as safe havens fostering strong relationships within the school community, or by benefiting from a flexible approach to their education. In the realm of equitable rural education, this study significantly contributes to the existing body of literature. Specifically, the present study implies that educational equity requires a lot of work. It encompasses various aspects, including a willingness to learn, cooperation, sharing of power, finding resources, harnessing creativity and imagination, and adjusting attitudes. Lastly, this study amplifies the voices of youth in the discourse surrounding educational equity in northern, rural schools.