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Poor on-reserve graduation rate partly due to funding shortfall, says Education professor

U of M prof comments on report which says Manitoba's on-reserve high school graduation rate worst in country

February 1, 2016 — 

Reprinted from the Winnipeg Free Press, Jan. 29, 2016 

Manitoba aboriginals living on reserves have the worst high school graduation rate in the country, a C.D. Howe Institute study says.

Just 30 per cent of young adults in the 20-to-24 age category on First Nations in Manitoba finished high school, compared with 90 per cent of non-aboriginals.

“The performance of band-operated, on-reserve schools, while much better than the residential schools they replaced, remains very weak in comparison with provincial schools,” authors Barry Anderson and John Richards say in their report.

A high school diploma increases the probability of employment at least 25 per cent, the study says. The potential ramifications of being a high school dropout are unemployment, poverty, crime and dependence on government. “Reconciliation and common sense require improvements be made — and quickly.”

Across the country, only 40 per cent of young adults on First Nations have finished high school. Aboriginal people on British Columbia reserves scored highest, with about 60 per cent graduating. In Saskatchewan, the rate is 42 per cent. The rate in Ontario is 50 per cent.

Responsibility lies with underfunding by Ottawa, which is responsible for on-reserve education, said Niigaan Sinclair, the University of Manitoba’s head of native studies.

Federal funding has dropped to a full third less per student versus funding by the Manitoba government of provincial schools, Sinclair said.

Federal funding has dropped to a full third less per student versus funding by the Manitoba government of provincial schools, Sinclair said.

“I don’t think anyone doesn’t want indigenous kids to succeed,” said Sinclair. But with less funding, students in First Nations schools have “under-resourced libraries, mouldy classrooms (and) inadequate classroom resources.”

High school graduation rates among indigenous people are much higher off reserve. Eight in 10 Métis, and seven in 10 First Nations adults living off-reserve, had high school diplomas across the country.

Another U of M professor, Frank Deer, who grew up on a reserve and taught in northern reserves, said many Manitoba reserve schools don’t go up to Grade 12, and that is also partly due to the funding shortfall. “The expectation is students have to go to boarding school to finish high school,” Deer said.

“I worked in South Indian Lake for a while. We only had school to Grade 10. If you had family in Thompson, you could go to Mystery Lake School Division.”

The value of education is also less obvious to a northern student. “They’re not seeing the relevance of (an education) because access to employment is not as great in the north,” said Deer, who is in charge of the Indigenous Initiatives program at U of M. “If you don’t see benefits of education in something real and palpable, like a successful mom and dad, that might affect that.”

A spokeswoman for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada told the Globe and Mail the Liberal government will make “significant new investments” to ensure children on reserves receive a quality education, while also respecting the principle of First Nations control of First Nations education.

Read the full story here.

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