BY HEATHER COLLINS
In a student success report released last week, the Keewatin Patricia District School Board (KPDSB) has publicly acknowledged for the first time the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal student graduation rates.
Data for the 2012-13 school year for “cohort students” – those who attended the same institution from Sept. 30 of their Gr. 9 year until graduation – show that the graduation rates for those who self-identified as Aboriginal cohort students is 55 per cent over four years and 60 per cent over five years. The rates jump by 23 per cent and 34 per cent over four and five years respectively for self-identified non-Aboriginal cohort students. The graduation rates for all cohort students last year were 75 per cent over four years and 82 per cent over five years.
KPDSB student success leader Scott Urquhart says reporting both self-identified Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal graduation rates helps the board and the communities within the board focus on working toward closing the gap.
“This is and will continue to be a priority for us in Keewatin-Patricia and we are truly committed to this improvement,” he adds.
“It’s been about seven or eight years since we have been reporting this kind of information but this is the first year that we have publically separated the Aboriginal graduation rate from the non-Aboriginal graduation rate. The reporting of the gap is something we want to bring the public attention to.”
Urquhart outlines that this is only the beginning of coming to terms with and working towards addressing the issue.
“We know we have a considerable amount of work to do as a school board…and we are ready for that challenge. It’s not work that is going to be done by one person, it’s collective work.”
As part of the action plan, Urquhart says the inclusion of more cultural content and cultural relevance in the curriculum is key. The school board has established partnerships with Aboriginal communities within the board’s region as well as Aboriginal education organizations like Seven Generations, which among other goals, aims to helps students complete their Ontario Secondary School Diploma by blending culture, tradition, information and technology.
KPDSB director of education, Sean Monteith says part of the solution is simply making sure students stay in school.
“We now know that when we have students that stay with us for prolonged periods of time…they graduate,” he says. “We need all of our students to come to us early, and to stay with us, without moving. We need this so our staff and teachers can work their magic.”
An October 2013 report by People for Education – produced by a wide range of First Nation and Métis groups – says 82 per cent of Aboriginal students in Ontario attend publicly funded schools, yet there are significant gaps in Aboriginal education for all students- Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.
“It’s time that all of us paid attention to Aboriginal education in our provincially funded schools,” says Annie Kidder, Executive Director of People for Education, on the organization’s website. “For too long, we have ignored the fact that most of Ontario’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit children attend schools in Ontario school boards. We are not serving them well, and we are not doing enough to educate all of our students about the complex relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada, or about contemporary and historical First Nations, Métis and Inuit culture, perspectives, and experiences.”
“…we stress that success will only be achieved if First Nations are equal partners in the design and implementation of solutions,” added Gord Peters, Grand Chief of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians and representative of the Chiefs of Ontario.
The report also indicates that principals in 51 per cent of elementary schools and 41 per cent of secondary schools report they offer no Aboriginal education opportunities for their students or staff outside the curriculum. Only 34 per cent of elementary schools and 35 per cent of secondary schools offer professional development for staff around Aboriginal issues.
The report recommends a mandatory unit on Aboriginal education in the new two-year teacher training program.