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Aboriginal grad rates up, but still below average

The C.D. Howe Institute’s analysis of educational attainment among Canada’s aboriginal population begins with the good news — that more First Nations and Métis young adults are completing high school.

The next paragraph in the Are We Making Progress? report put out by the institute this week starts to bring the bad — that aboriginal graduation rates remain very low. Using data from the 2006 and 2011 national censuses, the report shows that 40 per cent of aboriginals aged 20n to 24 did not possess a high school diploma at the time of the latest census count. This was an improvement from the 48 per cent incompletion rate from the 2006 survey, but far below the 10 per cent national average for all persons.

For on-reserve students, the incompletion rate fell from 61 to 58 per cent from 2006 to 2011. There are 500 on-reserve schools across Canada, with the schools in Alberta among the lowest performing based on educational outcomes.

The report comes at a time when First Nations leaders are expressing public disagreement around the merits of a federal act for First Nations education. While Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo has endorsed the bill, he has encouraged all First Nations to analyze it.

A handful of provincial chiefs, including Alberta’s, have done so, and warn that the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act would actually give too much control to the federal government.

Bill C-33 would provide $1.25 million over three years starting in 2016 for on-reserve education, with 4.5 per cent annual increases after that.

It would also ensure teacher certification at reserve schools, institute a joint council that would oversee how schools are performing, and allow students to transfer seamlessly between reserve and provincial schools.

As it stands, jurisdictional issues can get in the way of reserve students attending off-reserve schools. In the Nordegg area, about 25 young students have been out of school since October after their parents soured on a nearby reserve school and a provincial program for them was cancelled over a jurisdictional squabble.

Report author John Richards said Bill C-33 is positive legislation that would put reserve schools on equal funding footing with provincial schools and professionalize reserve school administration.

“The policy implications are clear — to reduce aboriginal poverty, we need policy that encourages near-universal high-school completion,” said Richards.

High school completion results for individual federal reserve schools are not readily available, but provincial school districts do tabulate the percentage of aboriginal students who graduate from high school within three years.

For the 2012-13 school year, Wild Rose School Division graduated 73 per cent of its First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) students, while Chinook’s Edge School Division realized 70 per cent graduation. The Red Deer Catholic and Public school divisions saw 59 and 41 per cent completion, respectively.

Only one in seven FNMI students in the Wolf Creek School Division, however, finished high school within three years of entering. The provincial average has risen in the last five years to 43.9 per cent completion in 2012-13.

Wolf Creek superintendent Larry Jacobs said his division has to “build a bridge” and tailor curricula to a First Nations cultural context to improve those numbers.

The report finds that the best performing provinces for aboriginal education are B.C. and Ontario, while Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan score lowest.

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