While the Conservatives have spent the summer talking about their forthcoming First Nations Education Act, they continue to ignore the elephant in the room: the federal government dramatically underfunds First Nations students’ education.
For a country like Canada, it’s shocking that only a third of high school students on reserves graduate each year.
And while the reasons are complex, one stands out: the federal government, which is solely responsible for financing First Nations education, only funds First Nations students two-thirds of the average funding per student that the provinces provide to other schools.
This financing gap contributes to lower test scores, stunning drop-out rates and a failure to equip students with the tools they need to compete and succeed in the modern workforce. It’s a big problem, especially since more than a quarter of the aboriginal people in Canada are under 14.
This is a huge loss for our economy. Canada is coping with a lack of highly skilled people in the workforce, a problem which is projected to worsen. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce and other business leaders say higher investments in aboriginal education are needed to employ this generation. One study found that by increasing aboriginal education rates to the same level as non-aboriginal Canadians could add $160 billion to the economy over the next seven years alone.
Sadly, nothing is being done, government spin notwithstanding. Despite the Conservatives being in power for almost eight years, the auditor general found the government cannot demonstrate any progress in closing the First Nations education gap. Their record of neglect is shameful. And they continue to deny there is even a problem.
Giving all children a high-quality, relevant education and an equal opportunity to succeed is a core Canadian value. It is the right thing to do, and it’s also good for economic growth.
It’s high time we closed the gap.
Carolyn Bennett, MP
Liberal Party of Canada Aboriginal Affairs Critic