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Reserve schools are failing Aboriginal students

Lizzy Hill is an internationally published writer, into writing about arts and entertainment, food and drink, feminism and her own misadventures. With a background in film and television production, journalism and visual arts, Lizzy's in...

Low graduation rates on reserve schools should concern all of us

From SheKnows Canada

A shocking new study draws attention to "the crisis on reserve schools," finding that the educational system is failing the majority of students. The study found that only 4 in 10 First Nations adults between ages 20 and 24 on reserves have graduated from high school.

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The study by the C.D. Howe Institute found that Aboriginal, First Nations and Métis adults were more likely to have high school degrees when they lived off reservations. "Among young adults aged 20-24, nine of 10 non-Aboriginals have at least high school, as do eight of 10 Métis and seven of 10 First Nation living on-reserve."

So what's happening at schools on reserves?

"One explanation is that reserve schools struggle with acute social problems and geographic isolation," write study authors Barry Anderson and John Richards. "Another arises from inadequate school resources and unnecessarily complex administrative relations, with both federal and provincial governments."

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Youth on reserves have a real disadvantage compared with those off reserve. The study found that among non-Aboriginal adults between 20 and 24, 9 out of 10 had high school diplomas at the very least.

Anderson and Richards point out that without a high school degree, the future is bleak for many living on reserves. "High-school completion is a low but crucial rung on the ladder to regular employment," they explain. "First Nation children with low levels of education face a future plagued by unemployment, poverty, limited social and economic opportunities, crime, health problems and an ongoing reliance on federal and provincial government support for housing."

But this isn't just a problem for people living on reserves. It's a Canadian problem, as every child has a right to a good education. So what can we do? Anderson and Richards have seven recommendations for government:

  • Create a budget strategy for reserve schools, and increase spending.
  • Focus more on "outputs," like testing results and students' success after graduation, rather than "inputs" (like enforcing provincial curricula).
  • Get the whole community involved — each individual band should develop its own goals and strategies for youth in schools.
  • Involve regional school staff in activities, such as setting goals and evaluating students' success.
  • Understand that there's no "silver bullet" solution and that change has to happen little by little.
  • Create a financial incentive for success — set aside a small "reward" for schools that excel.
  • Ensure that students have the support they need, like technology instruction, counselling and staff with appropriate qualifications.

No child deserves to have his or her future fall through the cracks, but year after year, on-reserve schools continue to fail their students. Anderson and Richards stress that "reconciliation and common sense require that improvements be made — and made quickly."

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