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B.C. needs to act on low aboriginal grad rate, says advocate

The time for reports is over: it is time to act to ensure aboriginal students’ success, the executive director of…

By eladouceur , in City Feature story , on November 25, 2015

Trystan Dunn-Jones, now an education student at the University of British Columbia, faced a 2.5-hour bus ride from his reserve in Port Renfrew to the closest high school.
Trystan Dunn-Jones faced a 2.5-hour bus ride from his reserve in Port Renfrew to the closest high school.

The time for reports is over: it is time to act to ensure aboriginal students’ success, the executive director of a key First Nations education organization said Thursday.

Deborah Jeffrey, executive director of the First Nations Education Steering Committee, was reacting to the British Columbia auditor general’s recent audit that showed the Ministry of Education did not reach its goal of raising aboriginal students’ high school graduation rate to 85 per cent by 2014.

Jeffrey questioned the impact the auditor general’s report will have. The report is not the first to highlight the problems facing aboriginal peoples in Canada, Jeffrey said.

Previous reports include the Hawthorn report in 1966, the 1988 Sullivan commission and, more recently, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. “How many reports are required for us to actively and concretely advance those recommendations?” Jeffrey said.

Deborah Jeffrey, executive director of the First Nations Education Steering Committee, says now is the time to act to improve Aboriginal students' outcomes. "We're overdue," she says.
Deborah Jeffrey, executive director of the First Nations Education Steering Committee, says now is the time to act to improve aboriginal students’ outcomes.  Photo: First Nations Education Steering Committee

The First Nations committee is an organization that works to improve education for First Nations through communication with federal and provincial agencies. The committee issued its own list in September of more than 20 recommendations regarding aboriginal education.

The group hopes to implement the recommendations with the help of the province’s Ministry of Education. Jeffrey said discussions with the ministry are ongoing but no agreement has been reached.

B.C. report found only 62 per cent graduated

The auditor general of British Columbia, Carol Bellringer, released her audit Nov. 5 on aboriginal students in the public school system. The report came at the end of the 10 years set by the Transformative Change Accord under former premier Gordon Campbell to bridge the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students’ high school graduation rates.

The Ministry of Education fell short of its target of 85 per cent aboriginal students’ high school graduation rate. The ministry estimated that by 2014 non-aboriginal students would graduate at a rate of 85 per cent. The goal was therefore to bring aboriginal students’ graduation rate to the same level.

Aboriginal students’ graduation rate did improve to 62 per cent in 2014 from 49 per cent in 2005, but non-aboriginal students’ graduation rate also increased during that time to 87 per cent from 82 per cent.

The report states that the ministry:

  • Failed to foster a safe and supportive environment for aboriginal learners.
  • Failed to analyze the data it collected to determine which changes were successful in improving aboriginal students’ graduation rate.
  • Did not report on effective means of improving the rate.

Transportation, racism affect graduation rate

Jeffrey said that “First Nations have an inherent right to self-government” and therefore “have a critical role to play in the conversation of education.”

Aboriginal students face multiple problems when it comes to education. The auditor general’s report mentions among others the issue of transportation.

Transportation was a major problem for Trystan Dunn-Jones, an undergraduate student from the Pacheedaht First Nation. He said that when he was a teenager living on reserve in Port Renfrew, the closest high school was two and a half hours away by bus. He had to leave his house every day at 5 a.m. and rarely got back before 6 p.m.

Jeffrey also said that the auditor general’s report highlighted the issue of racism. This racism takes multiple forms. Among them is low expectations of aboriginal students.

Dunn-Jones experienced low expectations first-hand. He said one of his school principals tried multiple times to direct him into a carpentry program despite Dunn-Jones’s intention to go to university.

Dunn-Jones said he resisted his principal’s pressure and is now in his second year in the Indigenous Teacher Education Program at the University of British Columbia. He says that not many of his aboriginal classmates went on to university, but those who did “I think are doing pretty well right now.”