Grad gap persists

Still work to do improving Aboriginal student graduation rate

The disparity in education outcomes between First Nations students and non-First Nations students highlighted in a recent provincial report closely resemble local trends in School District #27 (SD27).

An audit looking at whether the Ministry of Education met the provincial government’s commitment 10 years ago to close the gaps in graduation rates between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students by 2015 was released on Nov. 5.

While the report showed the graduation gap has narrowed since the commitment 10 years ago, inequality persists around the province to this day.

In 2005, the graduation rate for Aboriginal students was 49 per cent compared to 82 per cent for non-Aboriginal students.

In 2014, the graduation rate for Aboriginal students climbed to 62 per cent, compared with 87 per cent for non-Aboriginal students.

In SD27, the graduation rates in 2014 were similar: 66 per cent for Aboriginal students compared to 88 per cent for non-Aboriginal students.

There are approximately 66,600 Aboriginal students in public and independent schools in British Columbia, close to 10.5 per cent of the total student population. SD27, which covers about two dozen schools in the Central Interior, serves approximately 1,400 Aboriginal students.

SD27’s 22 per cent disparity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal graduation rates in 2014 was a significant shift from the 40 per cent disparity it saw in 2011.

“While this improvement was exciting for all of us, we will wait to see if this was the beginning of a new trend or a one-year aberration,” says Mark Thiessen, SD27 superintendent.

“Still, even with a 66 per cent graduation rate, there remained a 22 per cent disparity with our non-First Nations graduation rate, so we obviously still have some work to do.”

Thiessen says SD27 continues to work with local First Nations communities to see more school success for First Nations students. A recently signed Local Education Agreement between SD27 and the Canim Lake Band (Tsq’escenemc) puts greater emphasis on the responsibilities of schools, families, and the community working together to achieve student success, he adds.

“Schools alone cannot solve this issue. We know that any students who have success have a strong support system that includes their parents, their teachers, and their communities.”

There are still districts in B.C. where less than 50 per cent of Aboriginal students graduate with their peers, according to the report, authored by B.C.’s Auditor General Carol Bellringer.

“The ministry must collaborate with boards of education, superintendents, and Aboriginal leaders and communities on a single, shared, system-wide strategy to close the gaps for Aboriginal students. The ministry needs to intervene when results are not being achieved.”

The Ministry of Education accepted all 11 recommendations in the auditor general’s report.

Some of the recommendations include providing all students with a curriculum that addresses the past and present effects of colonization; ensuring safe, non-racist, culturally relevant learning environments; hiring the best people to work with Aboriginal students; and developing a systematic approach to data analysis on Aboriginal student achievement.

In a news release, Education Minister Mike Bernier says the province will continue to work with partners across the education sector – including the Ministry of Education and the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) – to make sure Aboriginal students have the same outcomes as the rest of the population.

“We have a responsibility to Aboriginal students, to their parents, and to all communities to build on how far we have come. We are going to keep working together with our partners so one day soon there are no achievement gaps between Aboriginal students and all other students.”

The FNESC, in a news release corresponding with the release of the report, calls upon the Ministry of Education to more fully exercise its responsibilities and powers to close the gap.

“The Auditor General’s recommendations align well with those identified by First Nations leadership and communities for improving student outcomes,” says FNESC president, Tyrone McNeil.

“It is important for the B.C. Ministry of Education to hold itself and all partners to a high standard of accountability for improved Aboriginal student outcomes.”