Students led down the garden path

There is really no good reason for the territory to have the lowest high school graduation rates in the country. The Yukon spends more on education than any other Canadian jurisdiction. In 2005-06, it spent $18,500 per student. The national average is $10

There is really no good reason for the territory to have the lowest high school graduation rates in the country.

The Yukon spends more on education than any other Canadian jurisdiction. In 2005-06, it spent $18,500 per student. The national average is $10,000 per student.

It has more teachers per student, 11.7 to one according to a five-year average. Nationally, the five-year average is 15.5 to one.

It has more innovative programs that most other jurisdictions can only dream about — bison hunts, outdoor education and arts programs.

It has everything going for it except results.

The five-year average graduation rate is a dismal 63 per cent. Among the territory’s aboriginal people, it is 40 per cent.

That’s deplorable.

Worse, the department covered up the results.

It lied about them.

The government had the real numbers. But in its annual education report it cited a graduation rate of 89 per cent by simply excluding students that didn’t enter Grade 12.

Essentially 100 children enrol in Grade 9. By Grade 11, only 63 students are left in the seats — 37 have gone missing.

The department writes them off. They are purged from the database.

By the end of Grade 12, just 56 graduate. The department calls this a Grade A success.

Clearly, it’s not.

There are plenty of reasons why children drop out of school.

Drug use. Family troubles. Indifference among parents and caregivers.

In aboriginal culture, which makes up a large segment of Yukon society, there is a resentment and lack of trust in the education system, much of it caused by the trauma of the residential school system.

The issue of student failure is a big problem, and not all of the responsibility falls on educators.

But they have a large role to play.

And, following an investigation, federal auditor general Sheila Fraser has concluded, despite an embarrassment of riches in the department, it is not doing its job.

It is failing our children.

According to Fraser, the department “could not demonstrate to us that it effectively delivers public school programs to Yukon children.”

The department knows there are performance gaps among students. In some cases, they have measured them. But they don’t have any marker that would trigger a fix.

To put Fraser’s finding in plain language: “Our teachers have figured out Travis isn’t doing well. Have a nice day.

“Next!”

Also, officials have not analyzed the root causes of the systemic problems, noted Fraser.

And they haven’t tried to fix the problems they know about.

That is, they know Travis isn’t doing well. But they don’t know why. And they don’t know how to help him learn.

And they don’t care enough to figure it out.

Also, once Travis leaves the Yukon public school system, the department has no clue how he’s doing at college or university. Is he passing or failing? At this point, the department doesn’t care. Its job is done.

The department has not planned how it will deliver its programs. It has not assessed how successful they are.

And it has not laid out how it’s going to decommission or replace its aging schools.

Student enrolment is dropping even as the department is hiring more teachers. And it has no plan — that is, not a clue — how many teachers it needs, or will need in the future.

There is plenty of reason to believe the department is simply avoiding the big issues.

Take FH Collins. Should it be rebuilt or renovated? Should it be a trade school or an arts school? Or a simple high school? Should it be in Riverdale or Copper Ridge?

Every answer alienates a voter block. So it’s better to delay action by launching another study.

Take curriculum. Should there be more aboriginal languages taught? Should there be more bison hunts? Or should there be more accounting and history? And is that European history? Or aboriginal?

Again, better not to go there.

Education is a political minefield. If you’ve got money, it’s far easier to toss coin at it — something tangible to say you care —  because parents, First Nations and citizens get all squirrelly when the issue of education comes up.

It is easier to delay decisions than to make them.

And so, there are plenty of excuses for the territory’s embarrassingly low graduation rates.

But there really is no good reason.

Except a lack of leadership.

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