Question re: First Nation graduation rates - April 28, 2015

Mr. Silver: As mentioned earlier, visiting in the gallery today is Mr. Toews and his grade 11 social studies class from F.H. Collins. They provided the basis of the questions that I am going to ask the Minister of Education today.

The Auditor General’s report of 2009 stated that, for the 2007-08 school year, the average graduation rate for Yukon students was 58 percent, whereas the Yukon First Nation students’ graduation rate was 38 percent. The Yukon Department of Education annual report for 2010-11 found that half of rural First Nation students didn’t graduate, whereas graduation rates for other rural students were at 72 percent.

What is the government doing to ensure that the educational issues among Yukon First Nation students are being addressed in order to improve graduation rates?

Hon. Mr. Graham: I would like to first of all thank the students for providing the basis for these questions. I would like to thank the member opposite for giving me a little tiny bit of advance notice so I can provide some meaningful information.

Mr. Speaker, we recognize that there are achievement gaps between Yukon First Nations and non-First Nation students, and we’re working to provide those First Nation students with meaningful opportunities to engage in learning so they can improve their success at school.

Just to give you an idea, Mr. Speaker, Yukon Education is developing specific curricula, educational resources and awareness programs to address the legacy of residential schools. We have integrated learning outcomes with on-the-land experience to engage learners, especially young aboriginal boys. We have developed high school accreditation for culture camps delivered by First Nations, and we’re enhancing opportunities for skills training and trades in rural areas at the high school level.

Mr. Speaker, we’ve also developed a program specifically for First Nation students called the CHAOS program. The community, heritage, adventure, outdoors and skills program, more commonly known as CHAOS, runs out of the Wood Street School and it enhances opportunities for First Nation students in the secondary school system.

Speaker: Order please. The member’s time has elapsed. 

Mr. Silver: For the minister’s sake, welcome to the wonderful world of opposition. We hit the ground running and the minute that I got the question ready, I went to his office.

Mr. Speaker, I can agree with the minister that some good work is being done — absolutely. However, the most recent statistics we have available show that little progress is being made. In 2013, the graduation rate for non-First Nation students was 77 percent. For First Nation students, it was only 47 percent — a gap of 30 percent. We know that the government has introduced some new programming to try to close that gap. However, we can see by the statistics that there has been no improvement in the graduation rates, so what mechanisms, if any, are in place to assess the outcomes of the new programs that the government has brought in?

Hon. Mr. Graham: Mr. Speaker, a couple of the new programs are self-evident already — the rural education action plan that we have recently introduced, as well as the tripartite education partnership agreement between Canada, Yukon and the CYFN and Yukon First Nation governments to develop an education action plan.

The partnership agreement commits all three parties to create and implement a joint education action plan designed especially to produce successful rates for Yukon First Nation students. The education action plan working group held a series of meetings to move forward with the plan. The MOU for the development of this plan included the potential for all 14 Yukon First Nations as potential signatories as well as CYFN. Currently, CYFN and 12 First Nations, Yukon and Canada have signed the MOU. I’m looking forward to taking a look at the draft joint education action plan so that we can move forward in working with First Nations and First Nation students to improve the situation in Yukon. 

Mr. Silver: Mr. Speaker, it’s worth noting at this time that the actual graduation rates are actually lower than what’s reported by the government. The rates are calculated as a percentage of students who graduate from the total number of students who were enrolled that year in grade 12. In other words, they don’t even include those who have dropped out before grade 12.

They also include those who depart after a leaving certificate. These graduates who have a leaving certificate would actually have to complete a GED type of program if they wanted to do any post-secondary education. It is just that — it is a leaving certificate. 
One of the ways to improve graduation rates would be to work with those First Nations who are interested in drawing down responsibility under their self-governing agreements for education. It is a great way to provide a culturally inclusive education for Yukon students.

Will the minister consider adapting the way that his department collects graduation statistics to include not only students registered in grade 12, but also all graduation-age Yukoners, and not include leaving certificates in that total?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski: Certainly, just to elaborate a little bit on what the Minister of Education has said, we certainly do have bilateral agreements with many of Yukon’s First Nations when it comes to education. Two Education ministers ago, we were in Dawson City signing off on some unique parts of their self-government agreement that now other First Nations have been very eagerly involved in — in terms of partnering with us.

What I wanted to say was that during the budget speech, I did articulate a vision that this government has for education — a vision that is focused on Yukon students’ success. We said that, over the coming months, we would begin to engage with all of the stakeholders who are involved and chart a path to achieve that vision. That includes such things as the creation of a new Yukon curriculum as opposed to using a curriculum from British Columbia. We look forward to working with all stakeholders. We look forward to finding the path to achieve that vision, and it is my hope that all parties in this House will put away the politics and the partisanship because they understand how important this is and to support that vision.