Experts Urge Panel to Deliver Milestone Report to Improve Education for K-12 First Nations Students

Quality First Nations schools an investment that will pay off for all Canadians

OTTAWA, Nov. 24, 2011 /CNW/ - First Nations students have tremendous potential to be successful in school given supportive learning environments, adequate resources, qualified teachers and curriculum inclusive of core academic subjects such as math, sciences and indigenous linguistic and cultural studies, said First Nation leaders, educators and other experts at the National Roundtable on First Nation education.

"First Nation children are resilient and can achieve academic excellence," said Rose Laboucan, Chief of Driftpile First Nation in Alberta. "With fully half of our people under age 25, First Nations are a very youthful population and our children have the potential to make a tremendous contribution to Canada's economy and their communities, provided they have the same educational opportunities as other children," she said.

Elder Bertha Commondant opened the meeting by urging National Roundtable participants "to unify and work collectively together for our strengthened future."

"We are moving forward and there is lots of hope that the Panel's work will lead to concrete action so we can nurture our children and ensure they achieve academic success," said Mike DeGagné, Executive Director of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.  "What's needed now are investments in teacher training, tools like computers, as well as greater parental and community involvement and support for our children's education."

The day-long discussions focused on jurisdiction and legislation options; second and third level support systems similar to the role Boards of Education play in supporting schools in the public system; accountability; funding; curriculum and resources; as well as community and social supports.

Feedback from today's National Roundtable will be factored in with advice already received by the Panel during a series of eight regional engagement sessions. The collective input will form the foundation of the findings, conclusions and recommendations in the Report the Panel will deliver to the landmark initiative's two sponsors, the Assembly of First Nations and the Government of Canada. 

"First Nation education for students residing on reserve needs systemic revitalization, not piecemeal projects," said Michael Mendelson, policy expert with the Caledon Institute of Social Policy.  "For example, First Nation schools need to have stable, self-governing First Nation education organizations to help them accomplish their educational goals. School planning, development of learning materials and assessment resources can all be developed more efficiently with these kinds of secondary support systems."

"Beyond First Nations communities, for Canadian society as a whole, the explosive growth in First Nations children and youth make the crisis in First Nation education something we can no longer ignore," said Peter Cowley, Senior Vice-President of the Fraser Institute.  The entrepreneurship and innovation First Nations are employing to develop their economies and prosper should be utilized to ensure education success for students too."

Employment levels of First Nations people who graduate university are virtually identical to other Canadians. The Centre for the Study of Living Standards estimates that Canada would gain $515.5 billion in increased productivity and saved expenses over 25 years if First Nations individuals had the same education and employment outcomes as the average Canadian.

"The Panel's heard the voices of First Nations leaders, educators, Elders, parents and students in every region of Canada," said Scott Haldane, Panel Chair. "My colleagues Caroline Krause and George Lafond and I are focused on delivering a Report that will help support the many effective partnerships that currently exist to advance First Nation education."

"Our goal is to build momentum for the promising successes we've seen in some parts of the country and help close the gap in education experiences and outcomes for First Nations students so they will have fulfilling and productive lives," he said.

More than half of First Nations people are under age 25, and 350,000 are under 14. Fewer than half of First Nations students attending schools on- and off-reserve graduate from high school, compared to more than 80 per cent of other Canadian youth. Non-Aboriginal students are over 10 times more likely to obtain a university degree than on-reserve students.

As the non-Aboriginal school-age population in Canada (ages five to 19) is expected to decline by nearly 400,000 children by 2017, the projected 374,200 Aboriginal school-age children in that year will constitute a larger proportion of Canada's children, especially in the Northern territories, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In Saskatchewan, for example, Aboriginal children currently make up more than 20 per cent of the school-age population, a proportion that is expected to grow to more than 33 per cent by 2017.

As Aboriginal youth enter the labour market in coming years, they will account for an increasingly high proportion of the working-age population, particularly in provinces and territories that have the highest proportion of Aboriginal people. It is estimated that there are currently about 300,000 Aboriginal children and youth who could enter the labour force over the next 15 years.

The Panel, a joint initiative of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) and the Assembly of First Nations, will deliver its recommendations to the federal minister and National Chief by year end.

For more information and to have your say in the development of recommendations to improve First Nation elementary and secondary education, please visit:  www.firstnationeducation.ca.  Follow the Panel's activities on Twitter at Panel_Education

SOURCE National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education

For further information:

For media inquiries please contact: Susan King:  C: 613-725-5901; O: 613-744-8282; susanking@sympatico.ca

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National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education

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