The city needs to improve Aboriginal education, says Vancouver School Board (VSB) chairperson and municipal candidate Patti Bacchus.
“The graduation rates are fairly abysmal and school completion rates for students who complete high school are shockingly low relative to non-aboriginal students,” she said.
As of 2009, 47 per cent of Aboriginal students enrolled in grade eight in British Columbia completed grade 12 compared to 81 per cent of non-Aboriginal students.
“We could do better,” said Bacchus, adding that the school system “has not done a nearly good enough job in understanding the needs of Aboriginal students and teaching them and supporting them in ways that are as effective as they need to be.”
The VSB is trying to address concerns by working with community groups to expand Aboriginal specific curriculum including starting an Aboriginal focused school by 2012. It is also committed to working within the provincial Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement, which establishes educational goals for B.C.
‘Exciting time’ for Aboriginal community
School board candidate Ken Clement, the first elected Aboriginal person in Vancouver history, said the city is “behind” in Aboriginal education and economic development.
“With the many families moving into the city, we’ll never improve the quality of life if we don’t improve the educational aspirations of all Aboriginal families.”
Vancouver has the third-largest urban Aboriginal population in Canada. The 2010 Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study (PDF) found that when first generation Aboriginal residents of Vancouver were asked why they first moved to the city, at the top of the list, with 35 per cent, was their desire to pursue an education.
[pullquote]It’s taken over a hundred years but we’re slowly getting there and I hope it won’t take another hundred years.[/pullquote]Earlier this year the VSB held forums (PDF) for parents and stakeholders to respond to the idea of creating a school or model with an Aboriginal focus. Led by UBC professor Jo-ann Archibald, the collective decision was that a school is required.
Christine Smith, executive director of the Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society, said it’s an “exciting time” for the Aboriginal community. To have an Aboriginal school where students feel comfortable celebrating their culture will be “amazing.”
She added that the VSB needs to make sure that success is measured not only in terms of academics but also based on a recognition cultural education.
“Without a strong culture and without understanding of what culture means to our people, we’re always going to be in that never never land, not getting out of the whole area of racism, systemic discrimination,” said Clement.
Aboriginal focused school
Some concerns were raised including the possibility of segregation, the age range of students, the inclusivity of non-Aboriginal students, the location, and the repercussions for Aboriginal programs in all other schools in the district.
September 2012 has been set as the date for the opening of the Aboriginal focused school. Smith said the date is “optimistic” adding, “I don’t think it’s going to open in September if you want to do it properly.”
Louise Boutin, a first-time VSB trustee candidate, said the the programs are good but she is concerned about accountability.
“There’s a lot of talk about doing things,” she said. “These are good programs… but who’s responsible? Who are the people that need to come to the table and take responsibility for the program?”
Allen Blakey, VSB incumbent candidate, said the graduation rates and success rate of Aboriginal students in our system is “directly dependent on what our society does to eliminate poverty among First Nations people.”
To improve the success of programs, Blakey added that it is important to acknowledge the history of residential schools, which created a “sour view of education.”
For Clement, all he wants is “to have successful students just like anyone else.”
“It’s taken over a hundred years but we’re slowly getting there and I hope it won’t take another hundred years.”