Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The State of Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education in Canada

Much has been said recently about the state of First Nations education in Canada. First Nations leaders have been talking about the 2% funding cap, stated First Nations schools are funded 25% less than Provincial schools, First Nations students receive approximately $2000 less than non-Aboriginal students and that the federal government will "pull" post-secondary education funding. I will treat with each of these points below.

As a starting point, I believe everyone agrees that education is important and is the major key for First Nations students from getting out of poverty-stricken situations and for creating the very best opportunties in achieving success and living better lives. If that is the end goal, I couldn't agree more and I wholeheartedly believe in that.

Let's now turn to the facts:

It was the former Liberal government in 1997-98 who introduced the 2% funding cap. Regardless, it is still in place today and INAC is currently doing an internal review and are supposed to report back to the government in the very near future.

With regards to First Nations schools being funded 25% less than Provincial schools, I have yet to see facts, data and/or documentation that supports these figures but I am looking into it and would encourage anyone who has these facts on hand to share them with me. If this is the case, the question that must be answered is this: are First Nations communities being funded less by INAC because they do not pay taxes on reserve?

With respect to First Nations students receiving $2000 less than non-Aboriginal students, again, I have yet to see these facts and figures in black and white. I am in no way suggesting these aren't real but I have not been exposed to the factual figures that have been perpetuated in the media recently.  Again, I am doing my very best to get to the bottom of these issues.

There has been much fearmongering by some Aboriginal leaders that someway, somehow, the federal government will "pull" the education funding. This is complete and utter nonsense. I have never heard anyone talk about taking away funding for First Nations students. To the contrary, I have heard people talk about ensuring we collectively do a better job to improve and facilitate access to post-secondary funding, improve graduation rates and give First Nations people the same education opportunities as non-Aboriginal Canadians.

There are many First Nations communities across the country who have made education a priority. There are educated professionals who dedicate a lot of time and energy in promoting education on reserves, teaching, work as assistants, school directors and principals who do their utmost best to improve the education system and work for the benefit of their students.

Sadly, there are other communities who are not so successful. In some cases, it is a lack of vision, a lack of ambition, poor socio-economic conditions, weak governance or a lack of accountability, to name a few. Let me now turn to the issue of accountability as it pertains to Aboriginal education.

First, many First Nations communities don't spend 100% of the funding they receive for education on education. Who pays the price for these decisions? Students do. Many First Nations communities utilize education funding for raising chief and council salaries, increasing per diems, for travel purposes, reparing roads, hiring people for unnecessary positions within the band council etc...For example, if a community receives $5 million for post-secondary education and spends $3 Million on education, that is $2 Million un-spent on education. Who pays the price for that? Again, students do. Secondly, when band councils take money from the education budget and spend it on something else, this creates a surplus in the education budget, which means they have not spent all the funding they received for education on education. Band councils can do this without being penalized because the education budget, through the terms and conditions of the INAC funding agreements on education permits chiefs and councils to do this. Chiefs and band councils are fully aware of this so when they "borrow" or take funding from the education budget, they are in fact punishing prospective students from accessing funding that is rightfully theirs. What about students who access post-secondary education funding and drop out of school? This also creates a surplus because the money is there and is not being spent UNLESS a student on a waiting list is quickly replaced but you could appreciate that a student who starts College or University in September and quits in November, it's very difficult to replace that student with another in the middle of a term in order to spend all the education funding. Third, there are situations where only students who are close to the chief and council are eligible to access education funding. In some cases, if you are part of the wrong family, you are likely not going to get assistance. This is obviously not the case everywhere but it does happen. What about band members who live off-reserve? Can they ALL access post-secondary education funding even though they are band members? The answer is sadly no. Often times, off-reserve band members cannot access education funding because of the fact they live off-reserve. In many situations, they are at the back of the line for education funding because on-reserve students have priority. Fourth, what about the fact that post-secondary education funding, which First Nations communities receive is based on an eligible student per capital funding basis? In other words, every First Nations community is required to submit a list of potential students who may attend post-secondary and are funded according to those lists submitted? I have asked INAC to clarify this with certainty and have yet to hear from them. The examples above are not rumours or hearsay. These are concrete examples that First Nations people have shared with me throughout the years. They happen, they are a living reality for many First nations people and they are challenges that must be overcome. For anyone to turn a blind eye to these facts, deny they are either not happening or are just isolated cases is irresponsible, unfactual and a lie. If we step back and consider all of the above facts and in particular, some First Nations accumulating a surplus on education funding(meaning they have not spent 100% funding on education), becomes very difficult and challenging for them to ask for additional resources.

In 2009, INAC conducted an internal audit of its management, oversight and monitoring of the post-secondary education program, which is availble on their website. Here are its conclusions: "Internal audit is unable to provide assurance, as key components are lacking, that the program's management control framework is adequate and effective in ensuring the achievement of program objectives. In terms of regional controls for administering recipient contributions, Internal Audit concludes that while established procedures are in place for obtaining and reviewing performance and financial reporting, monitoring and compliance auditing activities are not sufficiently robust to provide assurance that there is consistent compliance with applicable legislation and policy program frameworks.

Internal Audit is in the opinion that:

- the funding authorities currently in use, coupled with the limited tracking of how funds are spent, do not support the sound stewardship of program funds;
- current allocation methodologies do not ensure that eligible students across the country have equitable access to post-secondary education;
- the program's performance measurement framework does not provide relevant or complete data to properly measure and assess program results;
- limited monitoring is conducted of recipient compliance with program and funding agreement Terms and Conditions and compliance auditing levels are inadequate; and
- ISSP funding is not adequately addressing the expected program results of increased availability of post-seocondary education programs".

In other words, accountability is a two-way street and like I have consistently said, both INAC and band councils have a responsibility in the success of Aboriginal education as it currently stands.

How do we overcome the problems associated with Aboriginal education? What are the solutions that will get us there? In answer to my own question, I believe the post-secondary education funding should be taken out of the hands of band councils and be put in the hands of First Nations people themselves. Why should we have band councils administer education funding when First Nations students could receive education funding directly. Who better manage the post-secondary education funds than First Nations individuals themsleves? Why not send funding directly into the hands of students rather than have band councils decide who or who is not entitled for post-secondary education funding? Why leave the discretionary decision left to band councils? Without going further into this discussion, I invite you to read the following position paper, co-written by Calvin Helin, a successful First Nationsperson, lawyer, author and business leader at the following link: http://www.macdonaldlaurier.ca/files/pdf/FreeToLearn.pdf. I wholeheartedly agree with the recommendations of this paper and I think it is a potential solution forward. If that's not viable, another option is for First Nations communities to either create their own school boards where they would administer funds or amalgamate with provincial school boards.

After all, education should not be about INAC, chiefs and band councils receiving money, managing that money and making discretionary decisions on who is entitled to receive that money, it's about ensuring every First Nations person has access to the funding available and to an education equitable to non-Aboriginal people.

The fact remains, the majority of First Nations students do have access to funding to pursue their education dreams. This is something non-Aboriginal people do not have access to.  Non-Aboriginal students graduate and are left with huge debts, First Nations students(for the most part) do not. I will not open the pandora's box as to whether education is an Aboriginal and Treaty Right because until this is proved in a court of law, I will refrain from pronouncing myself on the matter. People can speculate or interpret Treaties as much as they want but the reality remains, regardless of how one views Aboriginal education in terms of rights, these rights must be proved in court. However, I will say that access to free post-secondary education is a privilege - one that as many First Nations people should take advantage of because it is the key to success.

I view Aboriginal education as a priority and I will continue to do what I have to do so that as many First Nations people have access to education funding as possible. More money may not be the only answer. Many more factors come into play. Accountability is a huge aspect. In my view, before more money is given to band councils without having all the facts on hand such as the First Nation vs non-Aboriginal ratio for education, until we know how much money is received by every band council, if they spend 100% of their funding they receive for education on education and if eligible students have access to these funds, I don't believe money is the answer. This is my personal opinion. If it is demonstrated with certainty and undeniable fact that band councils are underfunded, then there should be consideration of putting more money in the system as long as results follow.

In the end, we are all working towards the same goals with perhaps differing ways to get there. We all care about our children's futures and education is the promising way to get there. I am eager, open and looking forward to working with anyone that wants to work with me. The Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples is currently studying Aboriginal Education K-12 and the Senate Standing on Social Affairs, Science&Technology is currently studying post-secondary education. Good work is currently being conducted and I look forward to hearing from you on these matters. Let's get there together because education is not only for our children, education is a life-long journey that also applies to us.

6 comments:

astardly said...

Paet 1

Another great blog and topic. *rolls up sleeves* As education is one of my passions, I have to point out that these blogging sites do allow you to edit and trust me when I tell you that as a long winded person, editing for sentence breaks and avoiding run on sentences will make your message clearer and it will lend credence to your position.

I've been a British Columbia School Trustee as a member of the School District #92 (Nisga'a) Board of Trustees. I can tell you that while they were not concurrent terms, I served for six years.

I do have to say right up front that I admire your courage to get everything on the table and rather than point fingers and lay blame on intergenerational suffering or beurocracy, the opportunity for a well balanced and open discussion is there. Thank you for that.

Having said that, I cannot get passed a certain passage of yours that I would like to quote and then give my reasons for pointing this out as a possible keystone for the state of Aboriginal Education in Canada.

But before the quote, I must say that "Aboriginal Education" is almost a buzzword when discussing special needs and special education. I do not like this as it is far too wide in scope and usage. It is unfair to those who do excel only to be brought back down to earth.

I felt it when I came home with my education. In some respects I felt like I was built up only to be knocked down but that is just my opinion. Education is one of those things that is fundamental to Humanity itself. We are all learners and we are all teachers. The very spirit of our desire to learn is innately Human.

Notice I didn't break it down into race, creed or religion but left it as Humanity, I did this for the simple fact that learning is a universal concept. Government and the powers that be (local, internation et. al.) know how valuable knowledge is. Unfortunately it also only serves to bring up doubt in the form of too much knowledge being dangerous. That is what happens when people in power realize that their power they have is always going to be challenged and challenged by those who have the smarts to do so but I am digressing. As you can see, education is a passion of mine, it has provided so much for me.

Once thing it did provide is a good memory and the ability to multitask. I dare you to watch Wheel of Fortune with me because I will talk through most of it and still make guesses at the puzzle. =) But I have digressed again.

The quote. The thing that I found to be the most meatiest in your blog because I can sink my teeth into it is the following quote/excerpt that will be in part 2 of my comment:

astardly said...

Part 2 (not Paet LOL)

"...when band councils take money from the education budget and spend it on something else, this creates a surplus in the education budget, which means they have not spent all the funding they received for education on education.

Band councils can do this without being penalized because the education budget, through the terms and conditions of the INAC funding agreements on education permits chiefs and councils to do this."

BAND COUNCILS CAN DO THIS THROUGH THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF THE INAC FUNDING AGREEMENTS ON EDUCATION.

Forgive my all-caps, I am not yelling. I wasn't sure if html would work in this comment window.

I for one am not going to stir the pot of what education dollars may or may not be spent on, that is what INAC wants. I have always fostered the idea that true leadership starts with your leaders. If INAC is undermining their own operation with THEIR Terms and Conditions, why is it that Band and Councils are taking all the heat?

Shouldn't INAC be taken to task for undermining their own operation with Terms and Conditions that don't apply anymore? Maybe at one point in our history when there weren't so many "educated indians" but a lot has changed in the last 50 years, the last 100 years.

Residential schools are still recent history and someone has to say it so I will.

Out of residential schools came hurt, uncertainty and disrespect. Identity was nearly lost and for those unfortunate souls who never came home from a residential school, so much more was lost.

An apology is not going to cut it. Terms and Conditions that undermine INAC and allow for potential misappropriation will not cut it.

I fear that I will continue this for many more paragraphs so I will just cut it off there and I hope I didn't overwhelm you. =) As I said, education is a passion of mine.

With respect.

Unity by Aloha said...

"Education" is in the process of transformation throughout the world and the pedagogy will hopefully return to the values inherent to the indigenous peoples of Canada and the World. Science is discovering the truths that Aboriginals passed on from generation to generation, therefore it is time to return to those values to lead our next generation into a prosperous, peaceful reality. I invite you to watch a video by a Hawaiian scholar (Harvard grad) who has captured the essence of what education should be from an indigenous perspective. This is a holistic perspective that goes beyond sustainability. These values will empower all cultures!
The video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xNBxVGBEF0

Thank you Patrick for providing access to hear Canadian voices. This to me is true democracy.

R. Don Peel, Sustainable Development Researcher, University of Hawai'i

Unity by Aloha said...

As a follow up point to relate my original comment to your posting, is that until education is tailored by Aboriginals, who still have retained the indigenous values, in collaboration with Aboriginal youth, all money going into education is a waste.

Unity by Aloha said...

"Education" is in the process of transformation throughout the world and the pedagogy will hopefully return to the values inherent to the indigenous peoples of Canada and the World. Science is discovering the truths that Aboriginals passed on from generation to generation, therefore it is time to return to those values to lead our next generation into a prosperous, peaceful reality. I invite you to watch a video by a Hawaiian scholar (Harvard grad) who has captured the essence of what education should be from an indigenous perspective. This is a holistic perspective that goes beyond sustainability. These values will empower all cultures!
The video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xNBxVGBEF0

Thank you Senator Patrick for providing platform to hear Canadian voices. This to me is true democracy.

Unity by Aloha said...

Please note the first posted message (3:21 am) should follow the above posting.

I would love to hear your comments related to Dr. Meyer's perspective conveyed by the video. I came to Hawai'i to deepen my knowledge of the concept of "sustainable development" and Dr. Meyer's video captures all that i have learned here after five years of research.

The indigenous Hawaiians are struggling to regain their power back since the USA occupation, so they share similar issues as the Canadian indigenous.

I also conclude it would be a good strategy to work with Hawaiians to revive the shared indigenous epistemology to address today's escalating issues.

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