Audit principal Jo Ann Schwartz, in Whitehorse on June 18, talks about findings of an Auditor General report, released on June 18, that delves into the state of education in the Yukon. (Julien Gignac/Yukon News)

Education in the Yukon not living up to expectations for some students: auditor general report

Little has changed since 2009, it says

The Yukon Department of Education does not know how well some programs are serving Indigenous students and others, according to an Auditor General of Canada report, suggesting students could be underserved as a result.

Since 2009, when the last audit was completed, there’s been a discrepancy between educational outcomes of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, the report says. It goes on to say that not enough has been done to institute Yukon First Nations languages and culture in curriculums.

“Out latest audit showed that the Department of Education had done little to identify and understand the root causes of these long-standing education gaps,” audit principal Jo Ann Schwartz told local media. “Without this knowledge, the department had no way of knowing whether its supports for students were working to improve student outcomes or whether it was focusing its time and resources where it was needed most.”

Indigenous students aren’t the only impacted group. Others include students with special needs and rural students.

The report, published on June 18, took roughly one year to produce. It targets kindergarten through to Grade 12.

“This audit is important,” Schwartz said, “because education is a path to helping youth to become productive and participating members of society and communities.”

Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said the findings come as no surprise.

“The audit confirms what our government has known and has been working on as a top priority since we took office, and that’s primarily that we can do better in these areas,” she said.

Indigenous students had lower academic achievement scores. Reading comprehension levels in 2017-18 compared to non-Indigenous students were pegged at 68 per cent and 85 per cent, respectively.

The department measured high school completion rates, finding that 49 per cent of Indigenous students who enrolled in the 2011-12 school year graduated within six years, the report says. This is compared to their counterparts who were more likely to graduate, with 81 per cent doing so.

“We also found that the Department had no performance measurement strategy to set targets and guide its actions to close the gaps and help students meet their maximum potential,” the report says.

The department launched initiatives to help improve performance levels, the report says, but they weren’t part of a broader plan to make educational outcomes on par with non-Indigenous students.

The report recommends developing such a strategy that addresses the root causes of poor outcomes, establishing performance targets, actions to reach these targets and evaluating their effectiveness.

The department has agreed to work with Yukon First Nations during the 2019-20 school year in order to eventually implement such a strategy, among other things.

There are six additional recommendations for the department to make good on.

McPhee said all of them have been accepted.

“We are working closely with our partners in education and with Yukon First Nations governments and First Nations in order to improve outcomes for all students,” she said.

“I think there are some disappoints in that we know we haven’t done teacher evaluations very well, for instance, and of course that impacts students every day. We do provide student support services for inclusive education, but that maybe they weren’t being as effective as need be.”

Inclusive education is another area the report addresses. It says the department doesn’t know if its approach is working, either.

“In particular,” the report says, “we found that the Department did not monitor the delivery of its services and supports for students who had special education needs. Nor did it monitor these students’ outcomes.”

Some of the findings include no evaluations, “poor oversight of services and supports for students who had special needs” or a process to give some these students priority.

There are waitlists at some schools. But a lack of prioritization, the report says, “made it difficult for the Department to systemically identify students who had the most pressing needs from these waitlists.”

Another finding is that the Yukon government didn’t monitor individual education plans. It calls this “troubling.”

“Without such monitoring, the Department did not know whether students received, and benefited from, recommended services and supports, or whether the goals, objectives, and strategies for the students were actually met.”

Teacher preparedness is another problem that’s connected to this issue. Fifty per cent of teachers who responded to a survey said they didn’t have access to supports in order to deliver inclusive education, the report says, noting that 66 per cent of those respondents said they lacked training.

The department has agreed to remedy these issues. A review into the state of inclusive education will start this fall. Recommendations of its own will follow in spring 2020, “and will result in the development of appropriate strategies, to be implemented starting in the 2020-21 school year,” the report says.

Inclusive education also encompasses Yukon First Nations culture and languages.

According to the report, the government didn’t do enough to bridge partnerships with First Nations here in order to “fully develop and deliver education programs that reflect Yukon First Nations culture and language.”

There’s no policy in place that would institute language instruction and collaboration with First Nations, the report says, and there are “insufficient supports and resources to reflect Yukon First Nations culture and languages,” along with inadequate cultural training.

It says that between the 2010-11 to 2016-17 fiscal years no new funding was put aside for the First Nations Programs and Partnerships Unit.

“Department officials in the Unit told us that they were expected to produce new materials for the new curriculum but were under-resourced to do so. Department officials outside the Unit also told us that the Unit lacked the resources needed to help teachers reflect Yukon First Nations culture in the curriculum.”

There’s been no one staffing the languages section of the unit since 2016, the report says.

A revised curriculum that reflects First Nations culture and languages comes from a joint action plan that was spurred in 2014.

Recommendations include crafting a policy to solidify collaboration with First Nations, drawing up policies that support their languages and teacher training.

“It should also develop a strategic action plan with specific measureable actions and timelines to support its work Yukon First Nations,” the report says.

In response to this, the department says in the report that revitalizing languages is “essential” to reconciliation.

Asked how these recommendations are sure to be implemented, Schwartz said a follow up audit could occur depending on how they’re responded to.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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