Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Geoff Johnson: First Nations education plan falls short

...This is an article from this morning's Times Colonist. The problem remains the lack of respect. Each and every carrot dangled includes "FN education meeting provincial standards". How does this speak to respect or autonomy? Like many, I am disappointed and growing tired of never ending posturing. The time has long come and gone for governments to turn education over to FN people. My FN cousins have it right in their movement Idle no More! 

The federal government is proposing a sweeping education overhaul on First Nations reserves to bring aboriginal schools up to provincial standards.
Predictably, aboriginal groups and education advocates, suspecting political rather than educational purpose, have warned that the Harper government risks repeating the top-down paternalistic mistakes of the past in its proposals for increasing the success rate for aboriginal children.
Tyrone McNeil, president of the First Nations Education Steering Committee in B.C., expressed his disappointment.
“The Harper government says this new legislation will give greater control to First Nations,” he said. “That is bogus … if anything, the minister becomes superintendent of First Nations schools.”
While at first glance it seems that the proposed First Nations Education Act is intended to raise the standards of on-reserve schools, there is no question that the graduation failure rate among aboriginal kids, both in reserve schools and off-reserve public schools, is a bigger problem than the proposed legislation addresses.
Under the legislation, aboriginal councils would remain responsible for schools on their reserves, with the option to contract out work to provincial school boards or private educators.
In 2009, B.C. agreed to fund First Nations schools for students eligible to receive a provincially funded education.
This program is called reciprocal tuition because First Nations remain responsible for the tuition of students who live on reserve but who choose to attend public schools.
In an ideal world, that funding would be passed to the school district.
Statistically, on-reserve schools seem to be even less successful than public schools in guiding children to provincial graduation standards.
The proposed bill also allows native councils to form First Nations education authorities that control all aspects of the running of the aboriginal on-reserve schools.
Those authorities hire teachers and principals, manage budgets and develop curricula that meet provincial standards while focusing on aboriginal culture and language.
Where the proposed legislation seriously misses the mark is the absence of any change in funding support for the majority of aboriginal children in public schools.
In B.C., there are about 54,000 aboriginal children living off-reserve and fewer than 10,000 living on-reserve. For on-reserve children attending public schools, their education remains a provincial matter and is governed by provincial legislation.
In B.C., students of aboriginal ancestry attend 1,400 public schools and generate significant additional funding of $1,160 per student.
This additional Aboriginal Education Funding must be allocated only to the provision of culturally oriented aboriginal education programs.
If aboriginal children, for whatever reason, are falling behind academically, the money cannot be used to provide extra academic support.
In a few cases, the additional funding is administered by the local aboriginal community and the money is used to employ tribal elders and others to teach aboriginal culture in the school the children are attending.
In other cases, the school district employs a First Nations language and culture teacher to deliver or supervise cultural aspects of the curriculum.
Either way, while there is no argument about the value of cultural support for aboriginal kids, many teachers think there is a more compelling argument that any additional funding should be directed first toward academic support that might improve those poor graduation rates.
As many educators who work with aboriginal communities within school districts will tell you, there is a poor fit between the organizational expectations of public schools (daily attendance, being in class on time, completing homework projects) and the expectations held by aboriginal communities for their children.
The newly proposed First Nations Education Act does not address these core issues.
That causes many educators, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, to wonder if this is just a political initiative that falls well short of grappling with the issues that must be resolved before graduation rates for aboriginal children begin to match those of their non-aboriginal counterparts.

Geoff Johnson is a retired superintendent of schools.
© Copyright 2013

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