Native education must be funded equally with public schools
TheStar.com – opinion/editorial
Published On Thu Mar 01 2012.
Ottawa has been underfunding First Nations education for decades. Some communities have no schools at all. Many others have dilapidated buildings but too few books, desks and teachers to justify being called a school at all.
In 2009, a teenager from Attawapiskat confronted the Indian affairs minister and demanded better. Shannen Koostachin died shortly after in a car accident. But, thankfully, others continued her work.
This week, with the help of New Democrat MP Charlie Angus, they won unanimous, all-party support for funding reserve schools “on par” with public schools. This non-binding resolution is an important acknowledgement of how badly the government has been failing First Nations students.
But, to actually improve the situation the upcoming federal budget needs to include new, dedicated funding. Right now, Ottawa provides thousands of dollars less per student than provinces spend to educate non-native kids. Fewer than 40 per cent of native students – half the rate for non-natives – graduate from high school. It’s a tragedy for them and a terrible waste of potential for the country.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper knows this. He has seen the effects first hand. Just last week, he flew to Iqaluit, Nunavut, where graduation rates are even lower, to announce $27 million to boost adult education. That’s needed to help upgrade the skills of high-school dropouts so they can find a job. But wouldn’t it be better to provide decent schools and curriculum so students don’t drop out in the first place?
For more than a year, Ottawa and the Assembly of First Nations have been working to come up with a better way forward. So far, though, there’s been little action and no funding commitments. That needs to change or this week’s resolution will be meaningless.
It’s worth remembering that in 1989, MPs made a similarly grand gesture by unanimously voting to eradicate child poverty by 2000. There are 639,000 children living in poverty who can vouch for the government’s failure to live up to that promise.
As a friend of Koostachin put it: “It’s time to put words into action.”
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