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Education for All

There is a 36% chance that Aboriginal students in Canada will graduate high school, compared to 72% for non-Aboriginal students. How could this possibly happen in a country that claims to hold the values of equal opportunity and equality of rights?


Dropout rates are associated with a variety of factors, the most prominent of which is disengagement, or a disconnection with the education experience. This can be related to personal and familial issues that divide a student’s attention or a disinterest in the subject matter. When the curriculum fails to correspond with a student’s belief systems, cultural identity and language, they begin to lose interest and may feel that their education is useless.

Need for curriculum development

Why is disengagement so strong in Aboriginal communities? One prominent argument points out the uniqueness of Aboriginal culture, which is built around a system of beliefs that is rarely recognized or understood by education networks whose roots are in European worldviews. Indigenous respect for listening, dialogue, and communication provide a unique context for education. While educators make efforts to incorporate Aboriginal heritage and culture in the classroom, the funding and resources to make this an achievable goal are limited. It seems that the first step to re-engaging Aboriginal students should be to provide the necessary resources to allow for the development of a more culturally appropriate education curriculum.

Funding disparities

Unfortunately, curriculum development comes with costs. It requires an elimination of the funding disparities between Aboriginal schools and public schools, and the improved allocation of future budgets. Let’s take a moment to look at the funding differences between provincial funded public schools and federally funded Aboriginal schools. During 2012, the Province of Ontario spent $11,207 dollars per pupil on education. In 2011, the New Brunswick provincial government provided $9,328 per pupil. These numbers are drastically higher than the estimated $7,000 per student in federally funded Aboriginal schools.

With an increased education budget, the next step would be to improve implementation: finding ways in which the federally funded education system can be run by Indigenous peoples. Indigenous management would be able to better assess the areas which require increased funding. This may mean allocating funding towards incorporating native languages, historical teachings, and subject matter that is relevant to the lives of young Aboriginal Canadians into their school curriculum. Indigenous leaders have a greater understanding of areas that need increased financial support. They can work to re-engage students with subject matter that is applicable and conducive to lives of Aboriginal students.

 The heightened dropout rates in Aboriginal communities demonstrate the need for change. We must acknowledge that this change will not happen quickly, but without proper leadership, dialogue and knowledge, there is little hope for improvement. The dialogue starts with each of us as individuals. Through educating others and furthering our knowledge, we can build a citizenry that is willing and empowered to advocate for Indigenous control of Indigenous education. We can work towards a country where all students have equal access to quality education.

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