August 7, 2014
VANCOUVER—Too many on-reserve First Nations students “graduate” without a recognized high school diploma because many on-reserve schools don’t meet provincial educational standards, finds a new study released today by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank.The study, Myths and Realities of First Nations Education, spotlights the lack of structure and other major problems with on-reserve First Nations education in Canada.“If a First Nations kid graduates without a recognized high school diploma, it’s very difficult for that kid to apply for university or get a job,” said Ravina Bains, study author and associate director of the Fraser Institute’s Centre for Aboriginal Policy Studies.And that’s just the students who finish high school. More than 60 per cent of First Nations people aged 20-24 haven’t completed high school compared to 13 per cent of all other Canadians. Moreover, on-reserve school graduation rates average below 40 per cent compared to over 75 per cent in provincial schools.Moreover, contrary to claims, national per-student funding for First Nations elementary and secondary on-reserve students is equal (or in some provinces, greater than) funding for all other Canadian students.Between 2006 and 2011, funding for First Nations education grew from $1.3 billion to more than $1.5 billion, dispelling the often-repeated myth that funding growth has been capped at two per cent.Finally, on a per-student basis in 2010/11, average overall funding for students living on-reserve ($13,524) was greater than funding for all other Canadian students attending public school ($11,646).“Some First Nations groups and advocates argue for increased government funding for Aboriginal education, as though that will solve the problems. But overall funding for Aboriginal education has increased substantially across Canada, and the problems remain,” Bains said.So what can be done to improve First Nations education?There are success stories to emulate. First Nations communities in Nova Scotia, notes the study, began in 1998 to help on-reserve schools function more like provincial public schools. And in 2012/13, the graduation rate among Mi’kmaq students in Nova Scotia was more than 87 per cent.“If policy-makers want to help improve First Nations education across Canada, they must first face reality and not perpetuate myths. On-reserve schools don’t have the same structure and standards as other Canadian public schools, and more money does not necessarily improve student performance or graduation rates,” Bains said.