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Indigenous Services ‘grossly understated’ graduation rates for on-reserve high school students

A federal department grossly understated First Nations high school dropout rates despite billions in new spending, according to an internal report.

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Alex Anas Ahmed Calgary AB
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A federal department grossly understated First Nations high school dropout rates despite billions in new spending, according to an internal report.

Department of Indigenous Services funding for First Nations-managed schools in the period from 2012 to 2018 increased from $1.3 billion a year to $1.5 billion. “Notably, funding increased to more than $1.8 billion per year from 2018 and is forecast in 2022 at approximately $1.9 billion,” wrote auditors.

Per capita costs increased from $12,000 to $14,000 per student, a 17 percent increase. “While the raw per capita funding for First Nations on-reserve is high relative to provincial ministries, it does not account for the legislative, economic and historical context of First Nations,” said the report.

Data indicates as few as 15 percent of students schooled on-reserve finish Grade 12.

“The status quo of the approach to education program support will not lead to desired outcomes and will not support reconciliation and self-determination,” said the Evaluation Of The Elementary And Secondary Program. “Results for First Nation learners have not shown improvements over recent years juxtaposed against significant funding increases in that time.”

Auditors found graduation rates were a fraction of those claimed by the department, and far below the success rate for First Nations children who attended ordinary public schools off-reserve. “The education success of First Nations students on-reserve is low and not showing broad signs of improvement,” said Evaluation.

The department has claimed a graduation rate of 45 percent, but only counted students who started their final year of high school. “When considering the students who did not make it to their final year the figure is far lower,” wrote auditors, adding: “There has not been measurable improvement over time.”

First Nations students who finished high school numbered:

  • 44 percent in British Columbia;
  • 39 percent in Atlantic Canada;
  • 29 percent in Alberta;
  • 25 percent in Québec;
  • 24 percent in Saskatchewan;
  • 20 percent in Ontario;
  • 15 percent in Manitoba.

Indigenous children fared better at off-reserve schools, said Evaluation.

“The implications of these observations are no doubt deeply complex,” wrote auditors. “Economic, social, historical and geographic issues likely affect different regions, communities and individuals differently.”

The point of billions spent on-reserve schools was to ensure “students receive a comparable education to other Canadians within the same province,” though auditors in visits to unnamed schools found high staff turnover rates, dilapidated buses and inadequate classrooms.

“One community visited had pursued funding for a washer and dryer for the school to wash and dry students’ clothes after they walked kilometres through mud to attend classes due to poor road conditions and insufficient transportation, but funding for such items does not exist,” added the auditors.

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