<%ParlWebsiteContext.IncludeResources()%> The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples - REFORMING FIRST NATIONS EDUCATION: FROM CRISIS TO HOPE <%ParlWebsiteContext.IncludeResources()%> <%ParlWebsiteContext.RenderHeader()%>

First Nations education is in crisis, but money alone
won't fix the problems says Senate report

(December 7, 2011) Ottawa – First Nations education is in crisis and requires a complete overhaul, says the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples in its latest report, entitled: Reforming First Nations Education: From Crisis to Hope.

Unlike schools everywhere else in Canada, First Nations schools on reserves operate in isolation and without any of the critical education supports that a 21st century modern system of education requires. With as many as 7 out of 10 children not graduating from high school, it is an education model that is ineffective, outdated and that is failing First Nations children.

The report calls for a First Nations Education Act to provide for the establishment and legal recognition of First Nations educational authorities that are accountable, first and foremost, to parents and community members and that are able to enter into contractual arrangements with provincial and territorial school systems for critical education services.

"First Nations kids do not get an education that is comparable to their non-First Nation neighbours who live a kilometer down the road. But more money alone won't fix the problem, says Senator Gerry St. Germain, P.C., chair of the committee. Everywhere else, we have school boards, ministries of education, education acts. We need to get beyond the 518 individually-run, band-operated schools and create a First Nations system of education that can support those schools to deliver a high quality on- reserve education."

In addition to structural change, the report calls for First Nations education financing reform. Statutory funding, based on key cost drivers, is needed, concludes the report, to replace the current system of annual contribution payments First Nations receive from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. The current formula, last updated in 1996, does not include money for libraries, computer or technology labs, athletic facilities and capital costs. The result is that First Nations are going into significant debt or cannot deliver basic educational services that are taken for granted elsewhere.

"Among the most difficult testimony presented to this committee is that, right now, across this country, there are uncounted numbers of First Nations children and youth who are receiving an education vastly unequal to their non-First Nations neighbours. Alarming drop-out rates and poor academic performance continue to compromise the future of many First Nations youth," says Senator Lillian Dyck, deputy chair of the committee. "In some instances, we heard that children will attend schools that are crumbling, infested with black mould or that are situated on contaminated land. Most of these children will learn from textbooks that neither reflect who they are or speak to them of who they can become. In time, some will be lost to themselves, to their families and communities, and to this country."

The report acknowledges that the process of renewal and reform of First Nations education will undoubtedly be challenging, but the willingness and commitment from all parties to undertake reform is there. The time is now upon us to act boldly, says the report, to replace an antiquated system of education with a modern system, fostering real hope for the future.