The number of Aboriginal students attending post secondary institutions, university, or college has been on the rise for several years. Unfortunately, it is still far short of what the numbers should be, and the solution seems to have eluded Native leaders and education ministers. The most obvious problem that has prevented Aboriginal students from moving on to post secondary is the low percentage of Aboriginal students who actually graduate from high school. A shocking 40% of Aboriginal people in Canada did not finish high school, according to a report from TD economists Francis Fong and Sony Gulati. “There is a crying need to boost high school completion rates.”
The Vancouver School Board started a project last year that might increase the number of Aboriginal students who make it through high school. The VSB started helping students on a personal level, students like Gerald Angus who was having problems but was given assistance. “They make sure I’m always attending class and I’m always working.” The school calls home if Gerald is absent, and teachers and counsellors work with him to make sure he passes courses that are problematic.
In 2013, the Vancouver School Board looked at 26 Aboriginal students from the Britannia Secondary School, which has a high Aboriginal population with poor marks in certain courses and who were destined to not graduate. The students were given special assistance from teachers and counsellors who made sure they were ready for the tests. Personal problems were discussed, rides to school were arranged, and a lot of diligent work and a will to succeed resulted in 24 of the 26 students graduating.
Special care can make a huge difference when it comes to Aboriginal students. “Every individual has a different story,” Superintendent and chief executive officer of the school district Steve Cardwell told the Globe and Mail, “and we need to be attuned to that individual story to ensure that they are successful, rather than trying to provide blanket support that can sometimes be hit and miss.” The personal support approach should be adopted by schools across the country or given special priority, but it may solve only part of the problem. “The first priority should be on much-expanded pre-kindegarten, early childhood and early primary in schools-reserve and provincial with high Aboriginal student cohorts,” Simon Fraser Professor John Richards told the Globe and Mail. “It can make quite a difference.”
Warren Williams, an Aboriginal education worker at Britannia Secondary School, has noticed the powerful effects of the personal approach of the Britannia staff and the support that was generated to make it happen. “It focused people’s work, energy, and attention throughout the district. It’s about regaining that trust. It’s a slow process but the more people are working towards it, the quicker the process will happen, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”