Good news, bad news in aboriginal education report

  • Feb. 13, 2006 2:00 p.m.

By Alex Rinfret–There’s good news and bad news about islands schools in the latest report from Vancouver’s Fraser Institute.
The institute’s report on aboriginal education in BC, released last week, compares 65 elementary schools and 50 high schools on how aboriginal students are doing, using data from provincial tests written in the 2003-04 school year.
The good news, if you believe this kind of data is relevant: Sk’aadgaa Naay elementary in Skidegate, which has done well on this report in the past, did well again. The academic performance of its aboriginal students (who make up almost 60-percent of the total enrollment) was good enough to put the school in 16th spot out 65. In fact, the Fraser Institute singled out Sk’aadgaa Naay for its consistently strong performance over the last five years.
But G.M. Dawson school in Masset was at the bottom of the high school list with a rating of 0.0 out of 10. In 2003-04, the average exam mark of its aboriginal students went down to 47-percent (the lowest in the past seven years) and the graduation rate declined to 71-percent.
Only schools with at least 15 aboriginal students in grade 4 or grade 12 are included in the report.
North Coast MLA Gary Coons, a former teacher, said teachers are generally opposed to these types of reports.
“It offers no meaningful assessment of what’s going on in the classroom,” he said. “It’s not statistically significant and there’s no helpful information at all.”
However, he did agree with the report’s authors that more attention should be paid to First Nations’ education issues. The fact that aboriginal students do not perform as well, on average, as non-aboriginal students, is troubling and a huge concern, he said.
Some of the gap could be closed, he suggested, by increased funding to rural school districts, which have suffered from cuts under the Liberal government.
Mr. Coons also said that it’s important for school districts to work in conjunction with groups like the First Nations Education Steering Committee.
“Working with the elders is a vital component to First Nations education on Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte Islands,” he said. “Look at the school in Skidegate – it’s doing really well. That stems from the community of learners they’ve got there.”