Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 3 - Evidence - Meeting of April 13, 2010
OTTAWA, Tuesday, April 13, 2010
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 9:30 a.m. to examine the federal government's constitutional, treaty, political and legal responsibilities to First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples, and other matters generally relating to the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada (topic: issues concerning First Nations Education).
Senator Gerry St. Germain (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: I would like to welcome all honourable senators, members of the public and all viewers across the country who are watching these proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples on CPAC or possibly on the web. I am Gerry St. Germain from British Columbia, and I have the honour of chairing this committee.
The mandate of this committee is to examine legislation and matters relating to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada generally. This gives the committee a broad scope to look into issues of all types that touch on matters of concern to First Nations, Metis and Inuit.
The purpose of today's meeting is to obtain a briefing from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, INAC, on the issue of education. The committee feels that education is a critical factor that needs to be addressed if Aboriginal peoples are to succeed and prosper. Specifically, we have asked INAC representatives to offer an overview of programs, administration and funding for the education from kindergarten to Grade 12 of First Nations children living on reserves.
Members of the committee, I now present to you our witnesses from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. A familiar face before us, it is always a pleasure to welcome Christine Cram, Assistant Deputy Minister, Education and Social Development Programs and Partnerships. Good morning, Ms. Cram and welcome.
Ms. Cram is joined by Ms. Sheilagh Murphy, Acting Director General, Operations and Planning Support Branch. Good morning, Ms. Murphy.
As well, we have Ms. Claudette Russell, Director, Strategic Policy and Planning Directorate.
Ms. Cram, I believe you have a presentation that you wish to present to the committee. In the usual spirit, let us keep it as tight as possible so that questions can be posed by the Senate committee members.
Christine Cram, Assistant Deputy Minister, Education and Social Development Programs and Partnerships, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada: Thank you for the warm welcome, and it is a pleasure to be back at this committee again. We very much appreciate the opportunity to appear before the committee today and speak about Aboriginal education. I will cover Aboriginal education generally, and then my colleague Ms. Murphy will talk about education infrastructure.
We know that in today's knowledge-based economy, the importance of education is essential for improving the quality of life for aboriginal individuals, their communities, and for Canada as a whole. It is estimated that two thirds of all new jobs will require higher education or advanced training. Study after study tells us that globalization and technological advances are changing the composition of our workforce and changing the way we work.
The importance of education is even more significant for Aboriginal people who, as a group, are much younger than the average Canadian and have much lower education levels. Over the last decade, the population growth of Canada's Aboriginal population has been more than five times greater than for the non-Aboriginal population, and the median age of Aboriginal people in Canada is 13 years younger.
Although they are only 4 per cent of Canada's population, Aboriginal people are expected to account for 13 per cent of labour-force growth for the period between 2006 and 2026. By 2026, the Aboriginal population has the potential to make up 28 per cent of the labour force in Saskatchewan and 22 per cent of the labour force in Manitoba.
The Centre for the Study of Living Standards has done extensive research into the untapped potential of Aboriginal people. It estimates that Canada's gross domestic product, GDP, could increase by billions of dollars if Aboriginal Canadians reached parity in education, employment and income with the general population.
We believe that Aboriginal students need an education that not only encourages them to stay in school but also sees them graduate with the skills they need to enter the labour market successfully.
I am pleased to provide a briefing today on the issues requested by the committee including delivery, funding, outcomes, supports for learning disabilities and special needs, and future direction/initiatives with respect to aboriginal education.
I would also like to spend some time on the education-reform agenda and the related commitments in the recent budget.
First, to set the context, research has indicated that between 40 per cent to 50 per cent of a school's impact on student performance measurement scores can be attributed to factors beyond the school's control, such as income and parental education levels.
Education alone cannot solve all the socio-economic problems of Aboriginal Canadians. However, research has shown that education is by far the most important determinant of labour market outcomes and also plays a pre- eminent role in improving social outcomes.
In terms of delivery, INAC provides funding for education on-reserve, but it is the First Nation or its regional organization that is responsible for managing and delivering education programs and services in about 515 schools on- reserve.
For first nation students who attend provincial schools off-reserve, INAC pays a tuition rate charged by the province. This is paid to the first nation or directly to the provincial ministry of education, depending on the agreement in place.
Approximately 119,000 students live on-reserve. Of these, 48,000 — or about 40 per cent — attend provincial schools off-reserve. Therefore, significant numbers of Aboriginal students, both status and non-status, attend schools operated by the provinces.
In terms of funding, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada invests approximately $1.3 billion annually in elementary and secondary education. This funding includes $1 billion for instructional services, $128 million for special education, $9 million for cultural education centres and approximately $130 million in targeted initiatives for First Nation learners, such as school administration, teacher recruitment and retention, and parental engagement.
The government has an important role to play in ensuring that Canada has a well-educated and highly skilled workforce.
That is why it invests more than $9.8 billion in post-secondary education. That includes about $2.1 billion in grants, scholarships and loans to students; $1.8 billion to help students and families save for education; and about $3.2 billion in transfers to provinces; as well as investments in research through granting councils.
All students, including Aboriginal students, can benefit from these resources, programs and services.
To respond to the unique circumstances facing First Nation and Inuit students, funding is provided to First Nations or their regional organizations to help students access post-secondary education.
In fiscal year 2008-09, approximately 22,000 students received about $292 million to help with the cost of tuition, fees, books, transportation and living allowances.
Aboriginal learners continue to lag behind other Canadians in terms of academic achievement. According to the 2006 census, approximately 34 per cent of the aboriginal population aged 25 to 64 years has not completed high school, compared with 15 per cent for other Canadians.
For post-secondary education, there also continues to be an achievement gap, but progress is being made. For example, approximately 7 per cent of First Nation learners had a university degree in 2006, which is up from 5 per cent in 2001. Similarly, 4 per cent of Inuit students had a university degree in 2006, up from 2 per cent in 2001. However, this compares with 23 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population with a university degree in 2006.
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada's post-secondary education program is helping to make a difference. Increasing numbers of eligible students are accessing college and university opportunities, from 3,500 in 1977 to almost 22,000 in 2009.
The committee also asked about what supports are in place for children with learning disabilities and special needs. The Special Education Program at Indian and Northern Affairs Canada provides investments of approximately $128 million for programs and services for First Nation children with identified special needs so that they can reach their fullest potential.
The program gives them access to quality special education programs and services that are culturally sensitive and comparable to generally accepted provincial standards in that locality.
In keeping with the trend among provincial education systems, federal funding supports both direct services (classroom or school-based) and indirect services (program administration) using an intervention-based approach.
Under this approach, appropriately trained teachers and specialists are able to use and interpret assessment instruments to develop individual education plans and the necessary intervention programs to address the students' immediate needs while awaiting formal assessments.
This approach gives First Nations the flexibility to employ intervention strategies more quickly.
In terms of new directions in Aboriginal education, the Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that Aboriginal students have comparable educational outcomes and that they share fully in Canada's economic prosperity. Many of the challenges facing Aboriginal education will require sustained action by all governments, Aboriginal leaders, educators, parents and students. This is why we are working with our partners on a comprehensive reform agenda.
The foundation for change was put in place in 2008 when the government launched the Reforming First Nation Education Initiative with new funding of $268 million over five years and new ongoing funding of $75 million annually thereafter. This initiative includes two new programs: the First Nation Student Success Program and the Education Partnerships Program.
Through the First Nation Student Success Program, FNSSP, on-reserve schools are able to develop success plans, conduct student assessments and put in place performance measurement to assess and report on school and student progress.
The program is helping first nation educators to plan and make improvements in the three priority areas of literacy, numeracy and student retention. The program is designed to help first nation schools on-reserve improve student success. Nationally, the program covers about 84 per cent of band-operated schools and 90 per cent of the students.
Also, under the initiative, the Education Partnerships Program is designed to support improved First Nation student achievement — both in First Nation and provincial schools — through a collaborative approach involving First Nations, provinces and INAC.
This partnership approach is essential given that about 40 per cent of First Nation learners attend provincial schools. Tripartite agreements in British Columbia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Alberta are already promoting collaborative work between First Nations, provinces and INAC on initiatives to improve First Nation student outcomes.
These two new programs represent a significant step in improving outcomes. To date, 65 proposals have been approved across Canada: 37 in round one and 28 in round two.
Last year, First Nation schools received almost $30 million in additional investment. This year, more new projects will roll out across the country, injecting additional investments to help First Nation students succeed.
Based on the partnership approach, the Government of Canada also signed, in April 2009, the Inuit Education Accord. It is an 11-party agreement between the Inuit of Canada, as represented by the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and their partner organizations and governments, to establish a national committee on Inuit education.
The committee will develop a strategy for moving forward on educational outcomes for Inuit students.
The government's commitment to this reform agenda was demonstrated again in Budget 2010. It committed an additional $30 million to support better elementary and secondary outcomes for First Nation students.
The funding will support an implementation-ready education agreement for kindergarten to Grade 12. This will help ensure that First Nation students benefit from comparable education and achieve comparable results whether the classroom is located on- or off-reserve.
The budget also committed to exploring "options, including new legislation, to improve the governance framework and clarify accountability for First Nations" kindergarten-to-Grade-12 education.
With respect to post-secondary education, the budget committed to exploring a new approach to providing support to First Nations and Inuit students for post-secondary education that "will be effective and accountable, and will be coordinated with other federal student support programs."
Budget commitments also include a one-year increase in funding for the Skills Link component of the Youth Employment Strategy, YES, to assist more young Canadians while the labour market recovers; and investments for Pathways to Education Canada to partner with the private sector, other governments and non-governmental organizations to reach more young Canadians who are facing barriers to post-secondary education.
While federal investments in Aboriginal education are significant, we recognize that more remains to be done to make sustained progress in improving outcomes.
Recently, National Chief Shawn Atleo also expressed the importance of partnerships and shared responsibility for education in the following terms:
While clearly our primary relationship as first nations is with the federal government, the premiers and territorial leaders can and must play an important role in working with us, respecting our jurisdiction and investing in critical needs to generate hope and opportunity in the future.
Therefore, to conclude, the government wants First Nation Canadians to fully share in Canada's economic prosperity. We believe that while quality education is not the only way to achieve this goal, it is the single most important lever in improving life's chances.
We are working closely with the Assembly of First Nations, other Aboriginal partners and provincial governments to help address knowledge gaps and challenges that Aboriginal organizations face in delivering quality education.
Progress is being made, but we recognize that much work needs to be done to help accelerate improvements for academic success in elementary, secondary and post-secondary education. We believe that strong partnerships with First Nations and provinces and territories will be key.
Mr. Chair, thank you for the opportunity to discuss these important issues with the committee. I will now turn the floor over to my colleague Sheilagh Murphy to address the committee's request for information about school infrastructure.
Sheilagh Murphy, Acting Director General, Operations and Planning Support Branch, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada: Indian and Northern Affairs Canada recognizes the importance of safe and productive learning environments for First Nation students.
The department supports a range of school infrastructure projects, ranging from construction of new schools and facilities, renovation and repair of existing facilities to design and planning of new projects, and operation and maintenance support.
First Nations are the owners and operators of infrastructure on-reserve. As such, they are responsible for the construction, renovation, operation and maintenance of their schools.
First Nations fund their schools through primarily federal transfers, but they also may borrow funds to have construction occur earlier and contribute their own source revenue to additional space.
Federal funding is allocated to projects based on the national priority ranking framework, which includes the following four priorities: protection of health and safety and assets; health and safety improvements; recapitalization or major maintenance; and growth. Planned expenditures for 2009-10 are $225 million.
Since 2006, the government has invested approximately $714 million on school infrastructure projects. This includes the completion of 93 school projects and 113 current projects consisting of 19 schools, more than 12 major renovations and additions to schools, and 82 minor repairs, teacherage construction or design projects.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. We look forward to responding to your questions.
The Chair: Thank you. Will the committee allow me to ask a question?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: It is your committee; it is not mine. That is why I am asking.
Ms. Cram, in your presentation on page 4, you state that the government invests $9.8 billion in post-secondary education, of which $2.1 billion is for grants, loans and scholarships. You go on to say that Aboriginal learners can access these programs.
Can you tell the committee what percentage of Aboriginal students access these programs, and do you track this data? One other thing has come up in my travels over the years, having been on this committee for several years. One of the chiefs advised me that he administers the funding to post-secondary education; and he said that it is really not fair because he tends to favour his friends' children because they support him in the political world that we live in. I am certainly will not identify him, but he was honest enough to come forward with that. Have we thought of any other way to make these funds accessible on a broader range with less partisanship or however you want to term the situation that exists out there?
Ms. Cram: I will ask Ms. Russell to answer the first question, which is whether we know how many Aboriginal students are accessing the Canada Student Loans Program and those other products.
Claudette Russell, Director, Strategic Policy and Planning Directorate, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada: Mr. Chair, the short answer to your question is that we do not know. I will explain: The programs are administered by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, HRSDC. A relationship exists with provincial governments for how those programs are administered, but the reporting requirement for those particular programs does not ask specifically for individual students to identify themselves as Aboriginal students or otherwise. Therefore, when HRSDC and provincial governments do roll-ups of who is accessing the programs and who is not, they have no way of knowing whether or not a particular student is Aboriginal.
The two exceptions are Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where some of these programs are administered through the provincial governments, and they do have Aboriginal-specific grants. Those Aboriginal-specific grants are very much interlinked with the types of programs that are offered at the federal level. Therefore, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, with Aboriginal-specific grants, have the ability to ask questions around reporting as to whether a student is Aboriginal — Metis, First Nations or Inuit. They are able to report on the number of students that are accessing their grants and also federal programs such as the Canada Student Loans Program.
Ms. Cram: On your second question of whether the department has thought of options other than having the program administered through chiefs and council, the answer would be, yes, we have. We certainly have not come to any conclusion as to what the best way would be. I would also note that dialogue is taking place on options occurring more broadly. A recent Macdonald-Laurier Institute report talked about creating savings funds for every Aboriginal student as they were born; then those funds would be available should those children wish to go on to university.
Also another report prepared probably almost a year ago by Alex Usher looked at five different alternatives for delivery. We are interested in considering different delivery options, but we have not come to any conclusions at this point.
Senator Brazeau: Welcome to all of you this morning.
I have quite a number of questions, so I will try to be brief, and I would also appreciate if you would keep your answers brief as well.
Ms. Cram, you mentioned that INAC provides funding for education on-reserve and also that the First Nation, or its regional organizations, is responsible for managing and delivering the education programs on-reserve. You go on to say that for First Nation students who attend provincial schools off-reserve, INAC provides a tuition rate either to the First Nation directly or to the provincial governments. Having said that, is the department in a position to comment on whether the funding that is provided for education, whether directly to band chiefs and councils or to the provincial government, is in fact being spent on education?
Ms. Cram: When I say that, we believe that the money for kindergarten to Grade 12 is certainly being spent on kindergarten to Grade 12. We believe that because we know that it is challenging for First Nations to have sufficient money to run their First Nations schools and to pay the tuition. In some cases, they are facing very high tuition increases. I just note that recently in British Columbia a reciprocal tuition agreement was negotiated in which an amount is set that the province will pay for any non-First Nation children that are attending First Nation schools, and First Nations will pay for their students attending provincial schools, which is a very good development.
We are fairly confident. We believe that First Nations are spending on kindergarten to Grade 12.
The area where we do not have the same level of confidence, I would say, is on post-secondary education. That is because post-secondary education is allocated out to First Nations on a historical formula. It does not relate to the number of First Nation grade-12 graduates that they would have who would be able to access it. If no students were eligible, there is the flexibility that that First Nation could use that funding for other purposes. In some cases, they may use it for kindergarten to Grade 12. In other cases, they could use it for other purposes, which is completely legitimate, I would say.
Senator Brazeau: In front of me, I have INAC's own internal audit on elementary and secondary education, the education program. It says that the objective and scope of that internal audit was to provide assurance on the adequacy and effectiveness of the management control framework of the kindergarten to Grade 12 program. The conclusions of INAC's own internal audit are as follows. First, the internal audit is unable to provide assurance that the program's management control framework is adequate and effective in ensuring the achievement of programming objectives due to limitations in existing performance measures. The second conclusion is that recipient reporting, along with the limited compliance work performed by regional staff, does not provide adequate assurance that targeted component funds have been spent for intended purposes.
While I appreciate the answer that you gave before, INAC's own conclusions suggest the opposite of what you just said. It is a little mind-boggling to me when talking about education, something so important for First Nation and Aboriginal students — and there is substantial funding being spent on education — that there does not seem to be any criteria attached to funding agreements by the department once they issue the funding to the intended recipient. I would like to know from the department's view why that is.
Ms. Cram: I will speak about the observation on performance measurement. We agreed with that report, and we developed an action plan to respond to that audit. In fact, we are working on the development of a more robust performance-measurement system so that we have data.
A number of different types of reporting take place. One is called the nominal roll. I think the provinces do the same thing. That is, they look at how many students are actually attending a particular school, and the amount of funding for that school reflects that. A nominal roll is done, and First Nations are required to report on that nominal role. We have that information. We know how many students are attending which schools. This includes both those attending the on-reserve school and those going to provincial schools.
As a result of the concern about how resources are allocated, we were at this committee on another occasion to talk about INAC funds for First Nations. On that occasion, we talked about the number of programs that are funded as a core. That core goes out to First Nations, and then, if they meet basic program requirements, they are able to use it in the way they feel best meets their various priorities. Kindergarten-to-grade-12 education and post-secondary education goes out as part of this core.
We created targeted programs; the two new initiatives that I spoke about are targeted programs. They are proposal- based initiatives for particular projects that have reporting requirements related to the funding that they receive. The tendency has been to have a number of programs such as the Special Education Program, another targeted program, so the money is for that specific purpose. The reporting ensures that the money is going for that purpose.
Senator Brazeau: In your esteemed position, do you believe that the department is the appropriate body to administer education funding on behalf of First Nations? Do you think that the department currently has the capacity and the expertise to be able to continue to do so?
Ms. Cram: Are you asking about both kindergarten-to- Grade-12 and post-secondary education?
Senator Brazeau: I am asking about education in general.
Ms. Cram: The challenge for the department is that we are basically a funder. We provide funding to First Nations and other organizations that deliver the programs and provide the services.
In most provinces, you have a ministry of education, school boards and schools. Those ministries of education can be quite large, and they have expertise. The department has probably 60 people who work on education. Thus, they could not possibly have the level of expertise provided by the provinces.
As you know, senator, we have a single school-house model; we do not have a system of education. British Columbia has the First Nations Education Steering Committee that has been in place for 15 years. It has developed second-level service capacity. That is what is needed, along with closer partnerships with provinces.
Senator Brazeau: Do you think that INAC is the appropriate body to administer the funds going towards education on-reserve?
Ms. Cram: When you say "administer the funds," we provide the funding. We receive the funding through parliamentary votes and put it out to organizations. I think the question is how would you get the money there otherwise. Self-governing First Nations get it as a grant, so you would have to find some other entity to be the recipient of that funding and then decide on what the best delivery mechanism would be.
Senator Brazeau: As was being proposed, for example, by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute?
Ms. Cram: Yes, in which case, it was post-secondary education. We do not claim to have huge expertise in post- secondary or kindergarten-to-Grade-12 education. That is why the partnership approach or working with other entities is important.
Senator Hubley: Welcome; it is great to see you back.
I will try to look at the gaps, which are startling. I will refer to a graph that represents on-reserve First Nations students enrolled and graduating from Grade 12. The graph shows the years from 1996 to 2003, but I will highlight two of those. In the year 1997-98, approximately 6,000 students were enrolled, and approximately 2,000 graduated. Consequently, only 33 per cent of First Nations students graduated out of the total of those enrolled, compared to the 75 per -cent graduation rates for non-Aboriginal Canadians — that is 33 per cent compared to 75 per cent. That is a huge and unacceptable gap in the educational system.
We can move ahead and look for improvements, but, in 2002-03, approximately 6,700 First Nations students were enrolled, and approximately, again, 2,000 graduated. About 29 per cent of Native students graduated from those enrolled, compared to, again, 75 per cent of non-Aboriginal Canadians.
We are trying to decide what is happening to create that percentage. I did note in your presentation that on the 2006 census, 34 per cent of the Aboriginal population aged 25 years to 64 years had not completed high school, compared to the 15 per cent of other Canadians. I find that the ages that you have used are high. The age group from 25 years to 64 years is past. I would like to see that come back to what percentage from 16 years of age are still enrolled and whether they are still pursuing a post-secondary education. If they are falling out of the system, why are they falling out then? The 25-to-64 age group is a little misleading for me. Could you comment on that first?
Ms. Russell: The information that was used in Ms. Cram's speaking points was taken directly from the 2006 census. That census reports quite effectively on post-secondary education achievement levels.
The references you made to the tables you are looking at are in the K-to-12 system. You are right that those two things are not necessarily comparable. We do not disagree with the figures that you have put forward for the graduation rates in the K-to-12 system. As you mentioned, the gap is quite significant and unacceptable in many cases; people would say that, and we agree with that.
It is important to remember that many factors contribute to a child's success in school. One of them is the school system; there is no question about that. Quality schools and quality teachers contribute to whether a child will make their way from early learning right through to high school graduation. If you look just at the school system and what is happening in the First Nations context, there is a whole range of challenges there. One of them in particular is turnover of teachers. The other is the availability of curriculum that reflects some of the cultural aspirations of Aboriginal students. This is something we hear quite often. The other aspect that contributes to it is just the nature of the school. All of those factors are important, and many challenges are associated with delivering education on-reserve.
People who study this issue extensively will say that the school is not the only tool one must look at to be able to achieve higher completion rates in high school. In the First Nations context, in fact the Aboriginal context — because some of those figures apply to Aboriginal students in provincial schools — we see children dropping out as early as Grade 6. When you ask yourself about the reasons for that, you have to look beyond the school system and at the community as a whole and the socio-economic challenges First Nations and Aboriginal communities face; such as early childhood development. Many people have researched this quite extensively and speak about the importance of starting early to ensure that the parents, particularly the mother, have all the tools they need to ensure the child is healthy. The other factor that is spoken about effectively is low income. Children in low-income families or in families that have different mother-father structures have more difficulties in seeing school and education as important to them.
When we try to do work with First Nations, and particularly with the provincial systems where a number of Aboriginal students are in those schools, we try to look at it as best as possible as a holistic model, not only in what is happening in the school but also in what is happening in the community and at some of the things that we can be doing more broadly to contribute to better outcomes.
Senator Hubley: Thank you for your answer. Certainly educators and the school system in itself, both on- and off- reserve, have to address and mitigate many of the social issues facing all of our children. In many cases, counselling is available and is provided. You touched briefly on early childhood education, and I am wondering if Aboriginal Head Start programs would have a role in reducing this education gap. What are your thoughts on that?
Ms. Russell: They have a huge role. The Aboriginal Head Start is run by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and that program is seen particularly by First Nations communities as a contributor to good health. People who work in the field of health will say that one of the determinants to good health is education, and the interrelationships between the two are significant. I absolutely agree that Aboriginal Head Start and any early childhood development programs that help to ensure that you have quality educators working with parents, the communities and individual students help prepare them for school so that when they start in kindergarten or Grade 1, whatever the choice of the parent is, they are prepared and ready to learn. Those programs are absolutely essential.
The question is whether they are being used effectively, or there are enough of those types of programs available to Aboriginal parents and First Nations on-reserve to be able to help them. You can probably have a debate about that and how they can be more effective and what some of the tools are that governments can put in place to help those communities have access to those programs. That is certainly a viable question. Those are all things that are part of that holistic model around education that are vital for us as public policy-makers and parents within their own communities to have access to to help them get their children prepared to learn and succeed throughout the years.
Senator Dyck: Thank you for your presentations this morning. We are all aware of the horrific statistics of the educational levels of First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples across Canada. I was glad that you had pointed out the situation in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where it is extremely critical because the population of Aboriginal peoples in those provinces is growing rapidly. We all know that education plays a key role in allowing people to break out of the cycle of poverty.
I was looking at some of the data for high school completion rates that INAC posted on its website. I was flipping pages and have lost the table, but more recent data indicated that the high school completion rate gap was closing. The data that you showed us ends in the school year 2003. Can you check to see if you have more recent data that indicates that the gap is closing and more Aboriginal students are graduating? Could you provide more recent data than what is listed on this sheet of paper that we were given this morning?
When we talk about students not completing high school, you are indicating here those who have not completed Grade 12. What are the dropout rates between kindergarten to Grade 12? In your response to Senator Hubley, Ms. Russell, you mentioned kids dropping out in Grade 6. Where are the biggest changes? Do we know that it is mostly in the higher years or lower years? We cannot just throw money at it. We have to know the scope of the problem. Where would you say the problem resides with respect to completing high school?
Ms. Russell: There is no easy answer to that because the dropout rates, as you call them, vary across the country and from region to region. Provincial systems will tell you that. In fact, if you look at some of the data for dropout rates available from provincial governments, you will see that all sorts of challenges exist in measuring it. I will speak anecdotally on it based on the type of work and research we have seen.
It is true that, for Aboriginal students generally, the dropout rates occur sooner along the learning continuum than they do for non-Aboriginal populations. I mentioned Grade 6 because that is often a pivotal year in that it is the time when a student is getting ready to start thinking of education in a serious way, and it becomes a little more challenging. However, generally speaking, the dropout rates happen at a significant level between junior high and high school, and then all the years along that high school range, so Grade 9, Grade 10, Grade 11. That is where you see the highest level of dropouts. The reasons for that vary, and they differ from region to region and from First Nation community to First Nation community. A number of First Nations are in very remote areas, and it is often the case that the more remote a community is from a central metropolitan area, the higher the dropout rates are, and they happen sooner along the learning continuum.
I cannot give you the figures, as I do not have them at my fingertips, but it is somewhat comparable to what you would see in a provincial system, but just much more acute for the First Nations communities, particularly those that have low socio-economic environments in which the school is situated and for those that are in quite remote areas because of some of the challenges associated with making school relevant, quite honestly, and making school seem like a viable option to you as a student.
Senator Dyck: Is the department able to track data across the different band-operated schools in Canada? Do you have access to current educational success rates across our nation?
Ms. Russell: Through the nominal roll that Ms. Cram mentioned, we do have a reporting system that requires every single First Nation community or school or regional organization, depending on where the funding arrangement recipient is, to report back on the number of students that are in school on a particular day and then how they are progressing. We do have general statistics on numbers of students and some of the reasons they may be dropping out.
There are limitations associated with that, and one of the limitations is that we do not have a very good ability to track students. Sometimes a student drops out of the First Nation school but in fact is at a provincial school. We are not very confident with some of the dropout rates that we see because we think it is not truly reflective of what is happening. That is why some of the programs we have in place, such as the Education Partnership Program, which is to work with provincial systems to ensure a smoother progress and transition of students on- and off-reserve, are quite important because they will help to ensure that we are not loosing students between systems, essentially.
I hope that answers your question.
Senator Dyck: While we always talk about the horror stories, are there any examples of models of success in high school graduation? Where are the schools on-reserve that are doing a good job? Do we have access to that?
Ms. Russell: That is an important point that you made. You are right about the horror stories, but there are many good stories too. They happen in isolation. I can speak of a few because those are the schools that I have visited and spoken to the educators, and they do an amazing job.
There is a school called Wiky in Northern Ontario is doing an amazing job keeping kids in school and working with the parents and the broader community. They have an effective relationship with the provincial system and the school districts.
I am most familiar with the schools in Ontario. Another one in Curve Lake outside of Peterborough, a small elementary school on-reserve, is doing an amazing amount of work with provincial systems to help kids transition from the on-reserve school to the provincial school system. They have higher graduation rates than those happening in the provincial system right now.
There are many examples across the country of schools doing reasonably well and many different reasons why that happens. However, typically, it is about leadership within the schools, effective partnerships with provincial systems and a community-based approach to education so that it is seen as a priority from the parents all the way to the educators and the individuals helping students.
You raised a good point that we talk about the horror stories, but we have good examples of things happening effectively across the country.
Senator Patterson: I appreciated Ms. Cram's candour about the startling admission that you have about 60 people administering about $1.8 billion and the superior resources of provinces by comparison.
I was also struck by the number of reviews that are under way relating to these problems, including the department's own internal audits and the Auditor General's reports such as those of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and Alex Usher, which were mentioned. It seems to me that one of the promising developments is partnerships with provinces. Ms. Russell just referred to that as a factor in some of the success stories.
I note that the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, CMEC, has also recently examined the gap problem and has issued a report. It seems to me that maybe this is the way we should be looking at improving the gap issue. It sounds as though you have a blizzard of reports to deal with, but what do you think of this report? What is it recommending? If it seems to be the way of success, will you respond to this report and the measures it is recommending?
Ms. Cram: The report of CMEC is very good report. What is fascinating is that it was as a result of a summit that took place on education in Saskatchewan over a year ago. It was attended by all governments, provincial and federal, as well as all of the national Aboriginal organizations. Many regional Aboriginal organizations were there as well. That report represented the consensus that emerged as to the areas on which to focus.
I do not remember every single recommendation, but I will point out the one about the need to have data to measure progress and performance. The only way to achieve that would be to get student identifiers. I believe Saskatchewan is working toward having a single student identifier, so if that child moves from an on-reserve school to a provincial school, you can track that child throughout his or her career.
Ideally, all children in the country would have an identifier so that we could track their progress and get good data. I do not know if we could get there, but at least within a province it would be wonderful to be able to do that.
All of those who attended that summit came to a consensus that there needed to be much better data and much better tracking of students to be able to assess what was happening to their educational careers.
I may be off topic, but one of the things about Aboriginal students, which is very different from non-Aboriginal students, is that they do not follow an expected trajectory in terms of their education career. The expectation is that students will start kindergarten, go on to Grade 12, and, after that, they will decide what they will do in post-secondary education.
Aboriginal students do not follow that. They often will eventually complete a post-secondary education degree, but they are probably already married and have children or may even at that point be a single parent. They are probably aged in their 30s, and they may have dropped out a few times. They may have dropped out a few times in kindergarten to Grade 12 and may have had a couple of tries at post-secondary education before they succeeded.
We see that eventually they do succeed. We look at up to age 64 because we have to take a cohort that is so long. I would say that given that is what the population is doing, we have to think about what other supports are needed to ensure that those individuals, regardless of whether they are aged 30 or 35, have children or are a single parent with children, are able to complete their education.
I went off track and cannot remember all of the CMEC recommendations. My recollection is that one recommendation was on early education and another on the importance of culture and language and relevant curriculum. In terms of that recommendation, culture and language are important to success. The question is how to have that in the classroom at the same time as ensuring that literacy, numeracy and other things are not jeopardized.
I will mention a couple of promising developments. Saskatchewan is ensuring that textbooks in the provincial system have an Aboriginal component, and they are doing that for social science and math. They are finding that all students are doing better as a result if they can have that. Ontario is another province that is looking at having Aboriginal content in their curriculum. We think that is a very good development.
Senator Poirier: On page 3 of your presentation, you mentioned that about 40 per cent of Aboriginal students attended the off-reserve or provincial schools. Can you tell me what level is successfully completed compared to schools on the First Nations, if there is a difference in the results?
I am not speaking for all provinces but for the one I am from. All off-reserve schools have a curriculum that they have to follow for basically the same method of teaching. Do the schools in First Nations have a similar mechanism in place, where they all follow the same method or the same curriculum of teaching also?
Ms. Russell: In response to your question concerning the outcomes of First Nation students attending provincial schools, if you look at the census data — and this is information collected every five years — the 40 per cent completion rate for First Nations on-reserve is compared to a 56 per cent completion rate for Aboriginal students in provincial school systems, and the Canadian average is about 75 per cent or 76 per cent. Aboriginal students generally do better in provincial schools, but a fairly significant gap in outcomes still exists.
Senator Poirier: Do the First Nations have a structure in place where all schools follow the same curriculum?
Ms. Russell: The funding arrangements in place for First Nations to administer and deliver education require that they use comparable provincial curriculums. They do have the ability to add things to it, such as a language and culture focus, but they are, generally speaking, required to follow a provincial standard of education.
Senator Poirier: My second question is on the level of post-secondary education. Earlier the chair talked about whether a fair system could be put in place, not simply based on political reasons and so on, to ensure that people who want the programs have equal access to the programs.
At the provincial level, under departments such as post-secondary education, training and development, programs are in place where adults wanting to return to school do not go to the political people to access the programs, but rather to employment counsellors. By working with the employment counsellors, adults wanting to return to school, whether to finish their Grade-12 education or move on to post-secondary education, have access to funds. It is a fair system because it is open equally to everyone who needs access to that system.
Do you know if INAC provides funding to that branch of government in the provinces to allow First Nations people access to those programs, or could such a structure be placed within the First Nation communities so that they could speak with employment counsellors instead of perhaps elected officials to gain access to the programs?
Ms. Russell: I can speak to a couple of aspects of your question. First, the current funding arrangements are that money goes directly to the bands or regional organizations. Typically, some bands will hire or have in place post- secondary education coordinators, or PSE coordinators. These are community-based people who help students through the process of figuring out what they want to do in terms of their career and how to access funding. The approach used across the country varies. Therefore, some regions have intricate PSE coordinators and some do not; that is the challenge of delivering PSE financial assistance to First Nation communities.
All sorts of models are being proposed, and Ms. Cram spoke to some of them, around changing the delivery model to make it more fair or to have an ability to develop economies of scale so that not each individual band is administering the funds. Those discussions continue.
However, many programs are available in provincial systems that we suspect First Nations on-reserve and Aboriginal people in general are availing themselves of, which allow students to look at the broad range of programming that is available to them and how to access them. We think they are accessing and using those programs. However, typically, First Nations students on-reserve in remote areas do not know about those programs. They do not have the ability to have the full plate of information in front of them. Therefore, much work needs to happen to help them bridge what is available to them on-reserve, what type of services are there and what other services might be available in provincial systems.
For example, we know when First Nations students move off-reserve and go into a provincial system for education, they make themselves available to all sorts of apprenticeship programs. A high percentage of Aboriginal students access those programs and are quite successful at them. We believe those programs need to be promoted more effectively to help First Nation students make informed decisions about what works for them and what does not.
Senator Poirier: Maybe we need to also continue improving the partner relationship between First Nations and the provincial governments in all the provinces to ensure that information is out there, to ensure all people in Canada have access to it and know that it is there. That is something from which we need to learn to ensure we continue reaching out.
Senator Raine: I will go a little off topic. I am very concerned about the inactivity crisis that we are facing in Canada, which involves all Canadians, where physical education is declining in schools. What are our standards for First Nations schools with respect to physical education from kindergarten to Grade 12?
Ms. Cram: First Nations would be required to follow whatever the provincial education standards are in the curriculum. I have always heard from First Nations that they think sport and physical activity are one of the key factors to actually encouraging students to stay in school because they find they want an active learning situation, and they will come to school. Actually, if you ask students why they come to school, it is often because of the extracurricular activities. It may be the sport; it may be the music or other things. There is great interest in having more physical activity.
If we consider infrastructure, when First Nations are building schools, they want a gym. Part of the reason is because of their location they cannot always do outdoor activity. They very much want a gym so that they can do and encourage physical activity. This is anecdotal, but I have been to schools where sport is used as an encouragement for attendance, and the students who are chosen to represent a school at a sporting event are those who have the best attendance. That is a way it is done, and I believe everyone agrees.
There is an organization called Right to Play, and I know a number of First Nations that are interested in partnering with that organization to have more involvement in sport.
Senator Raine: Obesity is an important health issue amongst First Nations, and self-reported data shows that the rates are higher among off-reserve Aboriginal adults compared to non-Aboriginal people; namely, 24.8 per cent versus 16.6 per cent. It is a huge problem all across Canada. The reason I was asking about physical education is because I would think it would be very good for First Nations schools. This is a place where the federal government has an obligation and an opportunity to directly mandate certain things. Generally across Canada, physical education programs are declining as pressures from academic programs are taking away the resources from physical education.
I would suggest combining the cultural elements of education with physical education. I believe every Canadian was very impressed with the dancing that took place in the opening ceremonies at the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games. Certainly that is an opportunity to capitalize on and use the opportunity to have physical education in the schools mandated daily and of high quality to tackle the obesity issues. I would like you to comment on that. Do you think it is possible to do a special funding program to put good physical education programs in Aboriginal schools?
Ms. Russell: Currently, the way our funding arrangements work is that First Nations are provided a block of money for education. They are required to follow provincial curricula, to a certain extent, and then to do whatever they need to do to provide culturally relevant programming. As Ms. Cram said, many of them do put in place programs that they call land-based education. We think it is happening quite extensively.
First Nations appreciate the fact that they have the ability to maintain control over their education, to develop the types of curricula and programs that they see as beneficial to their communities. A number of First Nations have spoken about the importance of activity, sport and recreation. Yes, certainly some provincial systems fund certain streams of education curricula, such as sport, and some First Nations would welcome the opportunity to have additional funding applied specifically for something such as that. The debate is always, though, what the best way is to provide funding to allow First Nations to maintain control over their education system so that they can develop the programs that they see are beneficial to them.
Generally, anything that is too prescribed in that way would look as though the federal government is controlling the education system as opposed to providing the funding to allow their First Nations communities to maintain and control their education system. While I agree that it is an important component over education, I think it is also important to respect the fact that First Nations do want to maintain control over their education systems, which means putting in place the programs that they think are important.
Senator Raine: I think you missed my point. You do have some special programs. Why would we not target one of these special programs with special resources so that they can increase the components of physical and health education? I am absolutely appalled that we have been capping education in the core funding at 2 per cent. I think that is very dangerous. I would hope that we would have some special funding for these programs. They can address all types of things. The fitness programs can address the challenges that the Aboriginal people are facing, but I do not think there is funding in it in the 2 per cent cap.
Ms. Russell: No direct stream of funding for physical education exists in the 2 per cent core funding. That is absolutely true. I am not an educator, but having spoken to educators, they will say that many things contribute to positive outcomes. Physical activity is one of them; special education is another; parental education is another. It is always a question of where the best place is to put additional funding to be able to achieve the desired outcomes.
You can make an argument that physical activity, particularly in the First Nations context, is the right place to put additional funding if you were to develop a targeted program. Others would say differently. They would concentrate on early childhood development, to Aboriginal Head Start programs. Some people would say, no, it is about mature students and getting those students who have dropped out back into the system. A debate is taking place as to where the best bang for the buck is, if I can say it that way, and physical activity is one of those, but others would argue elsewhere.
Senator Dyck: This issue that Senator Raine has raised is important. In fact, one program — I think it was at Mount Royal Collegiate in Saskatoon — showed that high school students put on treadmills improved their grade-level marks significantly and the completion of the grade at a much greater rate than before the treadmills were introduced.
The question then is whether that type of initiative is eligible under the First Nation Student Success Program. If a school decided they wanted to go that route, could they put it forth through your new program?
Ms. Russell: A number of programs are in place right now that allow First Nations communities to access funding for things such as that. One of those targeted programs is called New Paths for Education. It is about $40 million and is available to First Nations communities to apply through a proposal-based project to do things such as you suggested, as long as they can demonstrate that it is improving educational outcomes.
Various types of things are being accessed under that program. With the First Nation Student Success Program, it certainly is possible for a First Nation community to put together a proposal that demonstrates how something such as physical activity would help to address the three priorities under the program: literacy, numeracy level and student retention. For example, it is legitimate to say that a community could put together a proposal that says that increasing activity within their community would help to retain students in Grade 8, Grade 9 or whatever the case may be. That would be a legitimate proposal that would be assessed under the terms and guidelines of that program.
Senator Fairbairn: I have been listening very closely to what you have been saying. It has been very helpful. I have been thinking about where I am from, Lethbridge, Alberta, and how I have watched throughout my life a great deal of activity with Native people in that area, and how the Blood Reserve has continuously kept Red Crow Community College.
As it got a little older and older, they insisted on keeping it, and the children in that area and Piikani, which is not so far away, had a real chance and took it. When the University of Lethbridge turned up, one of the first things it did was to ensure that they would have a Native part within the university so that hopefully, if everyone would keep these organizations working, they could just keep coming up the walk.
It is an utter pleasure to go to convocation, which is coming up in a few weeks at the university, to see now the number of young people from the area and beyond, and particularly young women, marching across that stage, not just having reached the end of the road, but also now being the very best in the areas that they have been working.
It has taken a great deal, but I think it has been understood right from the beginning from the two nations that this was a very important thing to do. It has been given help from both levels of government. The university is right across the river. This has made a tremendous difference to the whole area of Southwestern Alberta. It has opened a door for Native people to come forward and do quite astounding things. It is a great story. The levels of government are continuing to try to do this in all parts of Canada; I think it is a tremendously wonderful thing to do.
Ms. Cram: I want to thank the senator for raising that example. It is a good example. It has been wonderful, over the years, to see the partnerships that have developed between post-secondary colleges and institutions. There are some excellent examples across the country. We see more and more mainstream educational institutions recognizing that their future clientele will be Aboriginal. The way that they will attract them and keep them is if they make a welcoming environment. They are expending much more effort than ever before on that, which is great.
You also raised an issue about women. An incredible phenomenon is occurring in terms of the statistics; that is, women are becoming more successful. We are seeing an increasing number of women graduating and continuing on. That is a positive sign. It is sort of mirroring what is happening in the non-Aboriginal community. The concern now is for the boys. Are they being left behind, and what does one need to do about that?
The Chair: That is a good observation. We need all the help we can get.
Senator Stewart Olsen: I have something that I am struggling with here. We speak in terms of success — success, success, success. When we look at the numbers that you have provided, our measure of success seems to be with respect to post-secondary education — that is, university degrees — and getting people through that system. I would suggest that a good many people living on-reserves, a good many children, do not, perhaps, perceive success in those terms. I think we have to do a mind change and a mind switch as to what we are speaking of when we measure success. That is probably true for everyone in the educational system.
I was happy to hear you mentioning the apprenticeship programs and community colleges. What is our measure of moving the children who, perhaps, do not want to go on to university but see more of a viable opportunity for themselves in apprenticeship, community-college based programs?
Ms. Russell: You are absolutely right that the question of success has a different connotation in the mainstream world than it does for First Nations and Aboriginal people. They often use the term "lifelong learning." A number of studies have been done by the Canada Council on Learning around how we measure success for Aboriginal students. It is true that it is very different than typically how we speak of it in the mainstream world.
Predominantly, every time you talk to Aboriginal leaders and First Nation leaders about the achievement of their students in education, they all believe that education is hugely important, and they want to see their students participate in post-secondary education. When we use the term "post-secondary education," we mean the full stream. That is, university level, college, apprenticeship and vocational programming. It does not come out as strongly as we want it to, but we do really mean the full continuum.
Without question, we know that many First Nations in particular and Aboriginal people generally do pursue vocational or apprenticeship programming. Our programming allows funding to be provided to students who decide they want to pursue that stream. A number of federal programs more broadly at HRSDC allow for funding to pursue such things as vocational training. We absolutely support that and feel it is hugely important in allowing students to choose whatever stream they want in order to pursue their educational aspirations.
Senator Stewart Olsen: I think it is run in mainstream education as well. We have to be careful to allow our young people to open doors for themselves. Perhaps this committee might look more at apprenticeship and community colleges. Thank you for your answers.
Senator Brazeau: I would like to ask a question on post-secondary education. Obviously, many problems have been attributed to the program in general. Much of it has been documented by INAC. There has been testimony from students as well. I had the opportunity to listen to many Aboriginal students talk about some of the barriers that they face.
Recently, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute documented that some communities reported surpluses year over year and that funding intended for education was spent on other issues and ineligible expenses. There have been issues such as nepotism and favouritism. There is also the lack of progress reports and performance indicators. Even the contribution agreements by the departments that issue post-secondary education funding to First Nations communities have little criteria attached to ensure that the funds are being spent on education.
Some people like to turn a blind eye and pretend that these things are not happening; I choose the opposite. As a starting premise, I choose the position that it is in the best interests of the students that this funding be utilized by them, as it is intended. I think we must continue down that road.
Having highlighted all these problems, what is the department doing to ensure that education funding is being spent on education. More importantly, if it is not being spent on education to the detriment of the Aboriginal students, what is the department doing to intervene and ensure that this does not happen as we move forward in the future?
Ms. Cram: Thank you, Senator Brazeau, for that question.
First, within the current system, we are trying to figure out what we can do to ensure that there is more accountability for the funds and that the funds are going for their intended purposes. Audits have become more robust, more compliance is being done, and things of that nature.
You may be aware that the federal government has a new transfer-payment policy. At the present time, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada is working on how we will implement that new policy. It provides opportunities to strengthen the management control frameworks of the programs. We are working very much in that regard.
However, I will admit that there is a limit to what we can do with the current system. That is why in Budget 2010, there was reference to the fact that the budget committed the government to exploring a new approach to providing support to First Nations and Inuit students for post-secondary education that will be effective, accountable and coordinated with other federal student support programs. We are at the very beginning of looking at that issue. However, the federal government intends to do that over the coming year.
Senator Brazeau: I appreciate your comments about what the federal government is trying to do, but my specific question is what the department is doing. We say that the federal government is several departments, but sometimes they do not act in unison. I would like to know what, exactly, the department is doing in terms of trying to highlight where these questionable practices are happening to the detriment of the students to ensure that they do not happen.
If you say that audits have become more robust, then my next questions are as follows: What are the new results of the audits being conducted to highlight that? What is being done to fix some of the ongoing problems?
Ms. Cram: I should have been clear. Each recipient is required to do an annual audit of the funds that they have received from the federal government and indicate what it has been used for. Those audits have become more robust with standardized reporting templates and so on. As well, a much stronger clause is in them in terms of the department's ability to actually do audits and evaluations on the use of those funds. That is a new development within the last year.
It is one thing to ask for reports, but you have to do something with those reports once they come in. That is where I speak about compliance. The funding services officers and the program staff are implementing much more robust reviews of those reports to see where the funds were used.
Senator Brazeau: I am obviously not an accountant, but I am sure you will agree with me that you can see the budget line item for education that a First Nation community has received for education, and it could also say that they spent that money. However, unless a forensic audit is done and you really dig deep into the books of a given First Nation, does the department know if all of the funding has been spent on education based on the reports you talk about?
Ms. Cram: The audits that each recipient must provide, and I do not know the official terminology, but they have to be signed off by a certified accountant. The professionalism of that certified accountant is dependent on the fact that he has reviewed all the appropriate records. We rely on the fact that we have audits come in that have been reviewed by a certified chartered accountant.
In cases where we believe there have been problems, we may not start with a forensic audit because that is a very high-level audit, but we might start with a financial review. Depending on what we determine, it may result in a forensic audit. Those are done when the department is aware of particular circumstances of funds being misused, for example.
Senator Hubley: I was certainly pleased to see that there was support for children with special needs and a capacity to identify and address those needs. I am wondering if programming for gifted children exists. Do they have access to enriched programming within the on-reserve educational system?
Ms. Russell: Currently no targeted programming exists for gifted children in the same way as the program for special education needs.
Senator Dyck: My questions are about funding gaps. Senator Patterson mentioned the meeting of the Council of Ministers of Education in Saskatoon about a year ago. One of the issues they dealt with was equity in funding. We all know that a 2 per cent cap on post-secondary student support has existed since 1996. What is the department intending to do about that? Will they remove that cap and increase the support?
My second question has to do with the differential funding between on-reserve and off-reserve schools. There are different levels of support. In some cases, it can be several thousands of dollars difference per student. What is the department intending to do about that? Will they review the funding formula and equalize the difference in funding? On-reserve schools receive less funding than equivalent off-reserve schools.
Ms. Cram: On the first question, it is not the department that imposed the 2 per cent cap. The department receives appropriations. Thus, it is not in the department's ability to change that cap. Changing the amount of increase that occurs each year would require a budget decision. I would note that the 2 per cent does not take into account if you have a new program. For example, I spoke about Budget 2008 where we had $268 million over five years. That is over and above the 2 per cent.
On the second question about the differential funding, it is hard to compare because you have to see how provinces calculate their per capita funding versus how the federal government does it. It is a complicated task. However, we want to achieve comparable funding. In Budget 2010, you saw reference to being prepared to move for implementation-ready partnerships. The idea behind those is to have a tripartite partnership where you have an arrangement with the province, First Nation and the Government of Canada so that you have a way to work through what would be comparable, and then you have to stay with the comparability. Provinces are announcing in their budgets on a regular basis that they will increase this or that, as is the federal government.
You need to have a vehicle for keeping things synchronized. There is a huge range across the country. You have to line up with a particular province. To give you an example, the amount we spend on kindergarten to Grade 12 is about $1.3 billion for 120,000 students. Per capita, that would be close to $11,000 per student. If you look at what is comparable amongst provinces — and I say that it is comparable but very roughly — using Statistics Canada data from 2005-06, it ranges tremendously, from a high of $18,500 per student in the Yukon to a low of $7,600 in Prince Edward Island. You need to have that mechanism and partnership approach that allows you to work province by province to determine what would be required.
Senator Dyck: I have one more quick question about funding and the number of First Nations students actually qualified to go on to post-secondary education. You gave some numbers on page 5 of your presentation indicating that the department funded 22,000 students in 2009. How many students are waiting and qualified but did not get funding? Do we have numbers for that over the last 10 or 20 years?
Ms. Cram: Unfortunately, we do not have numbers on how many students are waiting. Different organizations have suggested different numbers, but that is not something that we readily have available. We also do not know how many students who go on to post-secondary education are actually availing themselves of other student financial assistance that is available through the other products or programs I talked about, through HRSDC and the provinces. I would say that we are sure that there are more than 22,000 First Nations status Indians, whether they are resident on- or off- reserve, who are attending post-secondary education institutions in Canada because they are availing themselves of other opportunities.
Senator Dyck: I had numbers indicating that about 3,000 students were waiting in 2007-08. That would make you think that perhaps there should be a bigger budget. Is there a way of increasing the budget for that program?
Ms. Cram: The post-secondary education program has the 2 per cent increase each year, just as, for example, kindergarten to Grade 12. As I mentioned earlier, we do not control the amount of increment each year.
Senator Patterson: Inuit have been defined by the courts as Indians or First Nations under the Constitution. You noted that about a year ago an agreement was signed with the Government of Canada to establish the Inuit Education Accord. A committee was established to develop a strategy for moving forward on educational outcomes for Inuit students.
Could you give us an update on what has happened and where this is going?
Ms. Cram: I am sorry, I do not have all the details on the current status of those, but I would be glad to follow up and provide the committee with an answer.
The Chair: Would you, please, and we will make certain that Senator Patterson gets the information.
Senator Patterson: Your presentation notes that, sadly, according to figures for 2006 on page 5, Inuit outcomes for university degree attainment are roughly half that of First Nation learners.
I have been quite impressed with the initiative by the University of the Arctic, which I know has received some initial funding from your department. It provides cyber-education; it is not bricks and mortar. It will provide access for Inuit students in remote, northern communities using the broadband Internet, which is now in place, as opposed to having to travel somewhere to a university.
Will the funding for this initiative come under the authority of your division?
Ms. Cram: No. The funding for that initiative is part of the overall Northern Strategy. It is the northern program that leads on that, and if you would like, senator, we could follow up with more details on it.
Senator Patterson: I would appreciate that. It is a great initiative.
Senator Raine: Could you give me an update on what is happening in British Columbia with the tripartite agreement and what the next steps are in its process?
Ms. Cram: Thank you for the question, senator. I would describe the current situation as being that negotiations are ongoing with the First Nations Education Steering Committee, FNESC. I believe 13 First Nations are actively negotiating to take up jurisdiction on education. That is continuing. It is certainly closer than it was, but the negotiations have not concluded yet.
Senator Raine: Do you know when the negotiations will be finished? It has been happening for quite a while.
Ms. Cram: Yes. They are certainly getting closer. The financial issues are still being discussed. They just have not concluded yet.
Senator Raine: I understand they are having trouble when they take certified teachers and give them additional training because the funding being provided does not allow them to match the funding that those teachers could earn across the river. We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome. We need to have great teachers being properly compensated to teach in the First Nations system. I am afraid that there is not the understanding that it does take more money to have better outcomes.
Ms. Cram: We understand that very clearly, and I think that FNESC and Nathan Matthew are very able negotiators and have put the point forward clearly. I am hopeful that in the coming months an agreement will be reached on what the appropriate amount would be.
The Chair: On that issue, Ms. Cram, I ran into Nathan Matthew in Kamloops about a week ago at an Aboriginal meeting with the Metis. There is real frustration. It is about 12 years, is it not, since its inception?
Ms. Cram: Certainly FNESC has been around for 15 years or longer. I do not think the negotiations have been under way for that many years, but for a long time.
The Chair: Senator Raine and I are being homers now because we are both from British Columbia. It is something that is thrown at us every time we are home or whenever we meet these people. As long as you are aware, hopefully, we can resolve it.
Senator Fairbairn: When I spoke, I talked about our university. I neglected to talk about our community organization as well, which has been absolutely terrific. It is like going across the river to connect with that, in one part, and that has been very helpful in keeping the one on the reserve going. All three of these things have been offered to the Aboriginal people for them to get in there and do what they want, and it is working. It is working, and it is coming from other places as well. It is a helpful thing.
Ms. Cram: Thank you, senator.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Honourable senators, as you can see, and there is nothing secretive about this, we are considering in our deliberations a possible study on education. Ms. Cram, you have been very candid and forthright in saying that 60 people at INAC administer the budget and try to do what school boards do across the country, and that we have to look at tripartite agreements, which are being entered into now, and possibly establish a legislative framework to assist your department and people to provide the results that we would all like to see for First Nations children at the educational level.
Thank you all for coming this morning. Once the committee has determined what it will proceed with, we may take the opportunity to invite you back. It is always a pleasure to see you, and we look forward to working with you.
Many questions have surfaced around administration and funding, but we must get to the core of the situation and get a framework that is functional, as it is difficult for 60 people to administer 75,000 students in over 500 schools.
(The committee adjourned.)