By Lloyd Dolha
Two new reports from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education demonstrate that more needs to be accomplished to improve First Nations education in the provincial school system. Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) Chief Guy Lonechild says two reports (Saskatchewan Educators Report and the Provincial Panel on Student Achievement) that examine education in the province indicate that much work remains to be done in order to improve the achievement rates of First Nations students in provincial schools. “Improving the educational outcomes for First Nations students in both provincial schools and First Nation schools is a key priority for the FSIN,” said Chief Lonechild. “To make real improvements, a holistic approach to education must be utilized that takes into account not only the school environment, but the child’s economic, cultural, and social impacts.”
According to the 2010 Saskatchewan Education Indicators Report, one of the primary factors affecting the success rates of First Nations students is poverty. According to the report, Aboriginal children in the province are more likely than non-Aboriginal children to live in poverty. In 2006 in Canadian provinces, 18% of non-Aboriginal children under the age of six were in a low-income family, compared to 41% of Aboriginal children. In Saskatchewan, 15% of non-Aboriginal children under the age of six were in a low-income family, compared to over half (51%) of Aboriginal children under six. Saskatchewan had the second largest proportion of Aboriginal children under the age of six in low-income families in Canada. “Many of our families are impoverished, and breaking the cycle of poverty is key,” said Lonechild. “We strongly believe that one of the best ways to improve on education rates is to stregthen families by providing better economic and employment opportunities.”
In the Provincial Panel on Student Education report, the panel points out that First Nations and Metis children and youth continue to experience lower achievement scores and graduation rates than the student population as a whole. The panel recommends urgent action to improve the well-being and educational outcomes of First Nations and Metis students as a moral, social, and economic imperative. The panel recommends that the Ministry of Education takes action to create a strategy that meaningfully engages First Nations and Metis communities in educational decision-making that empowers them to shape educational outcomes—a strategy that strengthens relationships between the ministry, school divisions and First Nations and Metis organizations.
To that end, the FSIN Education Sectretariat continues to move forward on consultations with a proposed Cross-Jurisdictional Task Force on Education. The Education Secretariat is meeting with senior provincial officials on immediate deliverables that will foster First Nations engagement in the classroom, such as improved internet connectivity. As well, the FSIN is calling for the creation of a seperate First Nation school division or urban school. The recommendations of a recent panel of experts suggest that a seperate school division will cut down on crime and increase First Nations high school graduation rates. A First Nations urban education school system would be based on First Nations values, beliefs, and traditions, like Catholic school divisions promote Catholic beliefs.
Darren Mekee, Assistant Deputy Minister of Education, said the ministry is pursuing the development First Nations/Metis education strategy and are developing a policy document with First Nations and Metis organizations. “We’re in the process of clarafying what those pieces of the strategy might look like,” said Mekee.