Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/1/2016 (1492 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For a province that has Canada’s highest proportion of aboriginal populations, Manitoba should be setting the standard for what works in education. The high school graduation rates here, generally, for aboriginal people — and especially in the First Nations population — are dismal compared with the rest of Canada. That’s been true for a long time.
But Manitoba has not set the pace on getting children ready to start school, to stick with it and to succeed. The record shows other provinces — Ontario and Saskatchewan in their strategies; B.C. and Alberta in funding levels — have good ideas on how to attack the embarrassing gap between the aboriginal and non-aboriginal graduation rates.
In Manitoba, which first set out its "plan" to close the gap in 2004, about 55 per cent of aboriginal students graduate high school on time, compared with 96 per cent of non-aboriginal students. That is what’s called a "proxy" rate: comparing the number that graduated to the number in Grade 9 four years earlier. The numbers are worse when individual students were tracked through four years.
The gap, instead of closing, has widened, Manitoba auditor general Norm Ricard said in a recent report.
Getting just ahead of the bad news, Education Minister James Allum released a new plan earlier this month. Mr. Allum says an NDP government would tighten up on the strategy, but aside from finally making some statistics public — you measure what you value, and you value what you measure, the saying goes — it’s not entirely clear how good the new plan is.
Mr. Ricard’s office found, to date, there has been a general lack of leadership from the Education Department: after having set out the broad goals in past years, it pretty much sat back and let school divisions and the other government departments involved with improving life for aboriginal people do their own things.
That, in essence, is the absence of strategy. It is throwing cash at a problem to see what sticks. It is a recipe for wasting money.
There was marginal improvement on the aboriginal high school graduation rate in 2013-14, but the department cannot say why. More damningly, it cannot explain why the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students has grown. The obvious observation is the plan — devoid of hard targets, best-practice guidance and analysis of what works where in Manitoba — has done little good.
That’s remarkable. With the highest percentage of aboriginal people among provincial populations residing in Manitoba (16.7 per cent) — and in Winnipeg (11 per cent) — one might think this province would be the think-tank on good educational programs and policies for getting children ready for school, for catching deficits, tracking achievement and supporting aboriginal students, families and their communities.
One only has to look at the work done in Saskatchewan — with equally high numbers of aboriginal students in the system — through its task force on education achievements for aboriginal people and its new policies, to see the difference in planning.
Further, as Mr. Ricard’s report pointed out, attacking the problem comes at a price: B.C. and Alberta spend more than $1,100 per aboriginal student on educational supports; Manitoba spends $290.
The disparity in expenditures would not be so discouraging if the money (approximately $9.1 million annually in Manitoba) was well-spent, targeted and accounted for, but it’s not. In fact, outside of global graduation rates, reporting on outcomes from school divisions has been almost wholly anecdotal.
Posting provincewide grad rates merely reveals a disparity. It’s time Manitoba finds out which programs work, and why, to help aboriginal students change the odds of getting through high school.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.