Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Commentary

Improving Graduation Rates

Native Education a focus of updated Indian Act

Submitted by MP Mark Strahl

 

hen I was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development last September, I received a number of kind notes and letters congratulating me on my appointment.

 

One note that I won't soon forget said "Aboriginal Affairs is a tough portfolio, but your dad always used to say 'focus on the possible.' Good luck!"

It was, as it often is from that source, very good advice.

When Canadians think of the relationship between the federal government and aboriginal peoples in Canada, it's easy to focus on the challenges. But our government has made significant efforts over the last number of years to improve that relationship, starting with the Prime Minister's historic apology on residential schools in 2008. Recently we've taken another significant step toward reconciliation.

By focusing on the possible, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo have achieved an historic milestone, and an unprecedented opportunity to improve the health and well-being of current and future generations of First Nations children.

In February, I was honoured to attend the ceremony on the Blood Reserve in Alberta announcing that Canada and the Assembly of First Nations had agreed on a path forward to improve First Nations education on reserve. I was also in the House of Commons on April 10th to witness the introduction of the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act.

First and foremost, this bill would ensure that control rests with First Nations for the administration of the own education system on reserve. With that control comes accountability and responsibility- that statutory funds will go directly to schools and students, that teachers will be certified to provincial standards and that students will be able to graduate with a recognized diploma. The bill will also remove those sections of the Indian Act that allowed for the creation of residential schools, once and for all.

Right now, First Nations students being educated on reserve across the country are graduating at a rate of only 38%, around 50 percentage points lower than the national average. In remote and northern regions, the rate is even lower. Statistics show that students without a recognized high school diploma will earn less, will have fewer job prospects and will have greater difficulty acquiring the skills necessary to be employable in today's job market.

There are great examples of First Nations education systems having great success - the Mi'kmaq in Nova Scotia are graduating over 85% of their students, which is a better rate that the rest of the province - but this sort of success needs to become the norm as opposed to the exception.

As the fastest growing population in Canada, First Nations youth have opportunities like never before to be full partners in Canada's economy. When outcomes for First Nations kids are improved, their communities benefit, indeed so does their country.

I am hopeful that Canadians will be able look back on that ceremony on the Blood Reserve and the introduction of the bill in the House of Commons as a turning point for First Nations education, Canada-First Nations relations and opportunity for First Nations children. The possibilities are very promising, and that's truly worth focusing on.


Mark Strahl is the Member of Parliament for Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon, BC. He was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in September 2013.

www.markstrahl.com

 

Action Needed on Aboriginal Education: C.D. Howe Institute

 

rgent action by the federal government is required to address the persistently low high-school completion rates among young First nation adults living on-reserve, according to a new C.D. Howe Institute report. In "Are We Making Progress? New Evidence on Aboriginal Education Outcomes in Provincial and Reserve Schools," author John Richards concludes that on-reserve education is in crisis. According to recently released 2011 census results, 58 percent of young adults living on-reserve have not completed high school. While results among young First Nation adults living off-reserve improved between the 2006 and 2011 censuses, there was little change among those living on-reserve.

As key reforms, he advocates federal commitment to a funding formula based on transparent funding for reserve schools equivalent to that for provincial schools similarly located, and to professionalizing of reserve school administration.

"I fully support the federal government's recently tabled legislation, Bill C-33, in so far as it addresses these needs," commented Richards. "It deserves broad parliamentary support," he added.

Richards added, "the recently released 2011 census evidence confirms the strong link between higher education levels, higher employment rates and higher earnings. The policy implications are clear: to reduce Aboriginal poverty, we need policy that encourages near-universal high-school completion. These insights are critical for provincial and federal governments trying to address the enormous economic challenges in their respective Aboriginal communities."

Richards examines results from the 2011 census and finds mixed results compared to the 2006 census. The good news is that young adults across Canada aged 20-24 who identified as North American Indian/First Nation and were living off-reserve, and those who identified as Métis, had considerably lower high school drop-out rates in 2011 than in 2006. Yet, the incomplete secondary studies statistic for the off-reserve Indian/FN population is still three times the rate for young non-Aboriginals and the Métis rate is twice as high.

Richards finds that British Columbia and Ontario have made the strongest improvements when it comes to Aboriginal graduation rates and that Manitoba has performed by far the worst. In Manitoba, the incomplete rate among young Indian/FN adults living on-reserve is 12.3 points above the national average; the BC rate is 17.3 points below the national average. This equates to a dramatic 30 point spread. Outcomes in BC and Ontario are uniformly better than the national average for all Aboriginal groups; in the Prairie provinces, they are generally worse. Outcomes in Quebec are mixed: worse than average for Indian/FN on-reserve, better than average for Indian/FN off-reserve.

As baby boomers reach age 65 over the next two decades, the population share in the active labour market will inevitably decline. The Aboriginal population is younger than the non-Aboriginal and their share of the population in western Canada is rapidly rising. This trend accentuates the importance in the West of overcoming weak Aboriginal education outcomes, noted Richards.

The C. D. Howe Institute is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies. It is Canada's trusted source of essential policy intelligence, distinguished by research that is nonpartisan, evidence-based and subject to definitive expert review. It is considered by many to be Canada's most influential think tank.

For the report go to: www.cdhowe.org/are-we-making-progress-new-evidence-on-aboriginal-education-outcomes-in-provincial-and-reserve-schools/25790

 

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