In my last blog posting, I discussed “The State of Aboriginal Learning in Canada” report and promised to talk more about potential solutions to the barriers to education faced by Aboriginal people in Canada. To that end, I have just finished reading two reports:
- Taking Action for First Nations Post-Secondary Education: Access, Opportunity, and Outcomes Discussion Paper by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN)
- No Higher Priority: Aboriginal Postsecondary Education in Canada: Report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs And Northern Development
Both reports are quite long and detailed and I highly recommend that you check them out if you are interested in this issue. I don’t purport to be an expert on this issue – in fact, I’m really just learning a lot of this for the first time – but I thought I’d share with you some of my impressions.
One thing that jumped out at me from my reading was that both reports recommended the elimination of a 2% annual cap on spending increases for the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development’s Post-Secondary Education Program (PSE), which provides funding for, among other things, eligible First Nations and Inuit students (but not Métis or non-status First Nations individuals) to obtain a post-secondary education. It was pointed out that a 2% annual increase comes nowhere near the increase in the cost of education since 1996, when the cap was put in place. Nor does it account for an increased number of eligible individuals seeking an education ((The Aboriginal population is the fastest growing demographic in Canada.)), nor address the lack of support for non-status Aboriginal people. The Standing Committee’s report is dated February 2007, yet it appears that their call to remove this cap hadn’t yet happened even three years later, as the AFN report, dated June 2010, is making that exact same recommendation. I took a look around the Department’s website and couldn’t find anything to show whether or not anything has happened since that time on this front ((If anybody happens to have information on this, please let us know!)).
Of course, it’s a time of fiscal restraint, so calls to increase funding are generally met with “where are we going to get the money?” The AFN report includes a section on “The Cost of Doing Nothing,” which notes that due to the health and social inequities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations “expenditures on First Nations postsecondary education are an investment with substantial returns in terms of reduced costs in social assistance, health care, and unemployment.” It’s a lot cheaper to provide education than it is to incarcerate a person or provide welfare; similarly, health care can be quite costly, but better education can lead to better health ((And this is strictly from a financial point of view. It says nothing about the emotional/mental/spiritual toll of unemployment, incarceration, ill health, etc.))<sup>,</sup> ((For an economic analysis, see Investing in Aboriginal Education in Canada: An Economic Perspective by the Canadian Policy Research Networks.))
Another interesting point in the Standing Committee’s report was:
“Gilbert Whiteduck of Québec’s First Nations Education Council told us that the 2002 Minister’s National Working Group on Education “concluded there were 6,000 reports on First Nations education in this country”. In his view, “It is now time to stop studying the issue and take action, by developing specific programs. … [W]e should really be thinking of the young people who no longer have any hope, and yet would like to make a positive contribution to Canadian society in their own culture.”
And, of course, money isn’t the only issue. Again from the Standing Committee Report:
“We know, however, as Roberta Jamieson reminded us, that although increased financial resources are essential, “problems won’t be dealt with, nor potential liberated, if we just throw enough money at it”.
The Committee believes that government also needs to work in close collaboration with Aboriginal stakeholders in developing a comprehensive, long-term strategic approach to Aboriginal post-secondary education. Immediate measures to address present failings in existing systems in the short term need to be supplemented by the development of medium and long-term measures to ensure the cycle of disadvantage owing to inadequate financial resources is not repeated.”
The AFN report talks quite a bit the right of Aboriginal people “to exercise full jurisdiction over First Nations learning.” And I am again reminded that I’m writing about this issue as a non-Aboriginal individual. Solutions for these complex issues can and should come from Aboriginal people, working in collaboration with others in post-secondary institutions and government, towards a common goal of supporting the learning needs of Aboriginal people.
The AFN report talks about “the need for supporting post-secondary education and skills training for First Nations youth and adults, not only for them to meet their individual academic aspirations, but also that they may contribute to the capacity and nation building required to facilitate strong First Nations governance.” The Aboriginal population is the fastest growing demographic in Canada, with a lot of potential, and it behooves all Canadians to be concerned about this issue, both from a standpoint of equity, but also with a view to the economic future of Canada.