Panel Hears Equitable Funding, Language, Culture and Technology Key to Improving High School Graduation Rates

VANCOUVER, Sept. 30, 2011 /CNW/ - A funding agreement which guarantees predictable, stable and equitable financial resources remains the biggest hurdle to delivering a quality education system for First Nations students in British Columbia, First Nations leaders and educators told the National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education this week.

Language and cultural programming, as well as academic curriculum, were repeatedly cited as fundamental to building the confidence and identity for students to succeed in Canada's K-12 education system and beyond.  Internet connectivity and access to other technologies were also identified as key to delivering quality education to First Nations students, many of whom live in remote communities.

The Panel held roundtables in Vancouver and Terrace, toured several First Nations schools, met with the Vancouver Board of Trade and sought guidance and advice from a wide variety of people, including First Nations students, educators, parents and elders.  The input given to the Panel will be used to form a series of recommendations to the Assembly of First Nations and the Government of Canada on ways to rapidly and urgently improve academic achievement and high school graduation rates for First Nations students.

"As acknowledged by Canada's Auditor General, we have the structures and accountability mechanisms in place in B.C. to give our students the quality of education they deserve," said Deborah Jeffrey, Acting Executive Director of B.C.'s First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) and member of  the Tsimshian Nation.  "It makes no sense - economically, ethically or morally -- to continue to deny our children and youth equitable funding to make this possible, including funding for language, culture and technology," she stressed.

"The quality of First Nations education is improving, but not fast enough.  I hope the Panel comes away with an understanding that First Nations educators have a strong vision for a successful First Nations education system," said Darrell Schann, a grade 9 - 12 teacher from Stz'uminus who participated in the Vancouver roundtable.  "Throughout these discussions, I have seen the path to successful education in First Nation schools.  Do we have the courage to make it a reality?" he continued.

Participants in the discussions also emphasized that education for First Nations students must be led and delivered at the community level, and ensuring parents and elders are heavily engaged with their children's learning and school work is also extremely important. 

Teacher recruitment and retention, leadership from school principals and teachers, and resources to support educators' ongoing professional development were also identified as key to increasing academic success among First Nations students.

"Closing the gap between educational achievement for youth in mainstream society and First Nations' youth is the single biggest shot in the arm we can give Canada's economy where demand for skilled and knowledge-based workers is likely to remain greater than our ability to produce them," said Panel Chair Scott Haldane.

"Every child, regardless of where they live in our prosperous country, deserves a quality school and a quality education," he said. "Fortunately, the ability to greatly improve the odds of educational success for First Nations youth is absolutely within our grasp, and taking action now is a win-win situation for First Nations and every Canadian."

"The Panel is wholly committed to listening to First Nations communities and using their valuable insight to develop a meaningful blueprint for action to achieve this national priority for the current generation of children in school today," Haldane concluded.

First Nations youth represent the fastest growing demographic group in Canada.  More than half of First Nations peoples are under age 25 and 350,000 are under 14.  Only half of First Nations youth graduate from high school, compared to more than 80 per cent of other Canadian children, and only eight percent of First Nations have a university degree.

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

For more information, or to have your say in the development of recommendations to improve First Nations elementary and secondary education, please visit:  www.firstnationeducation.ca

SOURCE National Panel Secretariat

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 Secretariat

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