THUNDER BAY – It is a stark indication of the failure of the federal government, and a grim look to the future for Canada’s First Nations young people.
More shocking, is the quiet admission by the Canadian Government that with the grades many of the youth attending schools on Canada’s First Nation reserves, the majority of students are not getting the grades that would allow them to succeed at college or university.
It is the federal government’s dirty little secret.
Timmins James Bay Member of Charlie Angus shares, “We learned the shocking news of the failures of literacy and numeracy in First Nation schools. In the Ontario region, students who participated in provincial standardized testing in 2013-2014 ended up with an average literacy score of 21 per cent for boys and 32 per cent for girls. The numeracy rate was a mere 18 per cent for boys and 20 per cent for girls”.
The results of First Nation student’s on-reserve who participated in provincial standardized testing show that Ontario has a long ways to go to catch up. The literacy rates for elementary school students in Ontario are a very low twenty-one per cent for boys and thirty-two per cent for girls.
That is well below the provincial average for off-reserve schools.
It is shockingly low.
Charlie Angus charges, “The Waterloo Board boasts an average 85 per cent success rate for standardized testing while us Ontario First Nation students under the AANDC system are facing an 80 per cent failure rate. I have tried to find any comparable rankings for literacy or numeracy scores anywhere else that are this low. In terms of overall literacy, these numbers place Ontario First Nation students behind 205 other countries — at levels slightly higher than Sub-Saharan Africa”.
It should be a situation that generates action. However for decades the system has continued.
“They even had the gall to present the numbers under the claim that it was part of the First Nations Student Success Program”, stated Charlie Angus.
It is clearly a case where the attempt to put shiny gift wrap on an empty box.
Those numbers demonstrate clearly that the gap in resources provided to Canada’s Aboriginal youth for education is not helping.
In fact it is more likely to make sure that the gap continues between youth in different parts of Canada.
Atlantic students tested the highest, followed by students in Manitoba. Ontario and Alberta student had the lowest test scores.
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) says “The government invested more than $322 million in funding to support post-secondary education for First Nation and Inuit students through the Post-Secondary Education (PSE) Program, which supported over 22,000 students in 2013–2014.”
In the Canadian Polar Commission – 2013-14 Departmental Performance Report, AADNC stated that the department, “Also funded Indspire, an organization with a proven record of success in promoting and investing in Aboriginal post-secondary education. Over and above the $817,000 of annual funding to Indspire, Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2013 provided $10 million over two years to provide post-secondary scholarships and bursaries for First Nations and Inuit students”.
AANDC reviewed and redesigned the Indian Studies Support Program (ISSP) to become the Post-Secondary Partnerships Program (PSPP) and changed the 2014–2015 Program guidelines accordingly to allow First Nations and Inuit students to benefit more effectively from courses designed and delivered to respond to their communities’ needs and prepare them to join the labour market and be successful in the 21st-century economy. The revised guidelines also require greater performance measurement reporting from recipients and provide information on proposal assessment criteria to help candidates apply to the program.
These assessments took place in 2013–2014:
Literacy, Atlantic: M: 65% F: 70%
Numeracy, Atlantic: M: 16% F: 54%
Literacy, Ontario: M: 21% F: 32%
Numeracy, Ontario: M: 18% F: 20%
Literacy, Manitoba: M: 53% F: 65%
Numeracy, Manitoba: M: 59% F: 50%
Literacy, Alberta: M: 28% F: 36%
Numeracy, Alberta: M: 21% F: 19%
These results are for the most part far below what would be accepted standards anywhere else in Canada. They demonstrate that AADNC is not putting the right resources in the right places for success.
The Minister is actually claiming that things are now on hold because of the failure of the First Nations Education Act.
At the Secondary School level, AANDC states that they spend $322,000,000 to help in the education of 22,000 students.
That works out to $14,636 per student. It is lower than the cost per student for off-reserve schooling. When you consider the reality that costs in the north are far higher, that figure shrinks even more.
When you consider, in Northern Ontario, students usually have to leave their communities to go to high school, flying out in the fall, back at Christmas, then back to school and back home in the summer, one might wonder how much of that budget is tied up in transportation rather than education.
One student, now in Grade 12 shared with NetNewsLedger that when he arrived in Thunder Bay to start high school, he had to teach himself how to write a sentence. Fortunately that student was able to do that.
Many don’t. They end up lost.
Many arriving in the south to attend high school, are not fully prepared.
Far too frequently, being far from home, away from their family, and in communities where in students don’t feel welcome, some sadly turn to alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms.
Many just drop out of school, dooming themselves in many instances to a live of poverty in low-paying jobs.
In Thunder Bay, over the past several years, eight students have ended up dead. Coming to the city to seek their education and ending up in the river, or in some cases taking their own lives.
This failure is one that will impact Canada for generations.
For a Prime Minister and a government who talk about the importance of the North in Canada’s future it must be the people who come first.
Canada and Canadians deserve so much better.