Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
August 28, 2006
Invest in Aboriginal students
An Aboriginal female living on a reserve who drops out of high school has a projected lifetime income of less than $90,000. If she finishes high school and attends university, her likely income over a lifetime jumps to $1 million.
This figure comes from a study - Aboriginal Peoples and Post-Secondary Education in Canada - by Michael Mendelson released in July by the Caledon
Institute of Social Policy.
Mendelson's study, based on 2001 census figures, draws attention to the shocking failure of on-reserve native education in Canada. Fifty-eight per cent of aboriginal people aged 20 to 24 have not completed a high school education.
In Manitoba and Saskatchewan - the two provinces with the highest percentage of Aboriginals in the total population (about 13.5 per cent each) - the high school completion rate is even lower. In Manitoba, 70 per cent of the reserve population aged 20-24 did not complete their secondary education. In Saskatchewan and Alberta, the non-completion rate is 61 per cent.
It is worth noting that for off-reserve Aboriginal people, the high school completion rate is much higher, though still not as high as the 84 per cent for the overall Canadian population.
The educational prospects of on-reserve Aboriginal people are likely even bleaker than Mendelson describes. The census data also separates out Canadians who have received some postsecondary education, but no certificate or diploma. Some who fit that category are no doubt people who did not finish high school, later entered some training course and did not complete that either.
In short, the quality of the data is poor. The success rates of native education are abysmal, but no one can say how bad. That makes it impossible to accurately trace any improvements (or further worsening) that might occur.
Further, there is no data on teachers who teach on reserves. What is their average level of experience? What is the turnover rate? How many teachers are Aboriginal? Anecdotal evidence suggests that on-reserve teachers are white kids typically fresh out of university who leave as soon as they are able.
The quality and experience of the teachers will surely affect the rate of students who complete Grade 12. Try implementing ongoing support programs for teachers for the first several years they teach on reserves.
Accurate data about teachers would make it possible to determine whether such programs have a noticeable effect.
Then there is the issue of governance. How many leaders in Aboriginal education - such as trustees and principals - are themselves native? We don't know. Would it make a difference if there were more Aboriginal people in leadership roles? Probably. But again there is no basis for judging when or if those numbers have increased.
Finally, the school cannot be treated as an isolated institution in determining student success or failure. Economic and family backgrounds, across every culture, are also key factors. Students in middle-class or well-to-do neighbourhoods typically fare much better in school than those who live in poverty.
Provide meaningful support for Aboriginal children and families from the moment of conception onwards and the children's school success will improve.
Run more headstart programs. Establish and properly fund parent-school advisory councils aimed at helping kids succeed. And make sure youth have prospects for a meaningful work life once they finish their education.
Next week, children head back to school. For many children, education holds the key to having a meaningful life. But for the tens of thousands of children who attend reserve schools, the dream of success is a chimera. Canada needs to do much better for them.
- Glen Argan
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