The B.C. government is promoting a record high school completion rate of 49 per cent for aboriginal students in the Class of 2009, but a First Nations group says that’s nothing to be proud of.
Provincial statistics released Thursday show two per cent more aboriginal students finished high school last spring, compared with 47 per cent in the 2007/08 school year. The figures compared with an overall completion rate in the province of 79 per cent for the 2008/09 school year.
The statistics are well below the province’s target of a 55 per cent completion rate by 2011/12. That compares with an overall target of 82 per cent. “We are pleased with the results and the gains that aboriginal students have made,” Education Minister Moira Stilwell said in a news release.
Stilwell said the increase is due in part to so-called “aboriginal education enhancement agreements,” which integrate aboriginal culture into schools. That includes special First Nations courses. Stilwell also cited work among school boards to “empower” aboriginal students to graduate.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said the province shouldn’t be happy with the results, especially given the huge gap between the overall student completion rate and aboriginals. “It really upsets me,” Philip said. “I am pleased that they are moving in the right direction but we are a long way from home.”
Of those aboriginal students who do graduate, he said some aren’t able to attend post-secondary school due to cuts to student-aid programs. Phillip said there are many obstacles for aboriginal students, all of which trace back to one issue: “crushing poverty.”
“At the community level it really makes it extremely difficult for our students to reach their full potential,” Philip said. “The vast majority of our people live far below the poverty line. Those conditions aren’t improving, they are getting worse.”
He cited a recent report showing British Columbia has had the highest child poverty rate in Canada for six years in a row and said aboriginal children make up a big portion of that group. “I don’t really believe the province has a lot to be proud of in terms of the aboriginal file,” Phillip said.
Completion rates are determined by tracking the number of students entering Grade 8 who graduate within six years. Over the last six years, the overall student completion rate was 79 per cent, except for 2006/07 when it was 80 per cent.
The completion rate for aboriginal students has swung back and forth between 47 and 48 per cent from the 2003/04 school year to 2007/08. In its service plan update released in September, the province noted the “achievement levels of aboriginal and non-aboriginal students continue to differ significantly.”
In June 2009, the province said there were 2,159 aboriginal students in the Vancouver school district, representing 3.6 per cent of the district’s total enrolment.
It also said it was investing an estimated $52.6 million a year—$1,014 per student—for aboriginal education in 2009/10, based on district-estimated enrolments. It said the money is used to support aboriginal language and culture, education and support service programs.
The Canadian Press