Good morning, Mr. Chairman and committee members. I am pleased to be here today and I would like to thank you for the opportunity to discuss the important issue of first nations education.
Education is the key to personal success and Canada's continued prosperity in today's knowledge-based economy. For this reason, there is growing recognition of the need to overcome the achievement gaps that persist between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada.
Minister Strahl sees improving aboriginal education outcomes as a top priority and is putting particular emphasis on improving education for first nations, in partnership with the provinces and first nations communities.
The good news is that we are seeing a great deal of interest across Canada in improving the educational outcomes of first nations students and a growing debate about how best to achieve this goal. Increasingly, research notes the importance of family and community factors on student outcomes. One recent study concludes that between 40% and 50% of a school's impact on student achievement can be attributed to factors beyond the school's control. The persistence of poverty, poor housing, unemployment, single parenthood, and poor health are commonly reported challenges in some first nations communities, and we mustn't overlook these factors in efforts to improve first nations education.
Nevertheless, some stakeholders have singled out inadequate federal funding as the primary reason for an achievement gap between first nations students on reserve and non-aboriginal students. This argument stems from the view that greater investments in education lead to improved school quality.
While funding is a key issue, identifying appropriate levels is a highly debated issue. In fact, research does not consistently conclude that higher levels of investment lead to improved student outcomes.
I would like to provide some context on how INAC supports first nations education on reserve. Commencing in the 1970s, the responsibility for the delivery of elementary and secondary education services to first nations learners on reserve was devolved to individual first nations, reducing the federal role to that of a funder. The exception to this is the seven federal schools that the Government of Canada continues to run at the request of the respective first nations communities.
In 2008-09, INAC invested approximately $1.3 billion to support the elementary and secondary education for approximately 120,000 first nations students living on reserve. Approximately 40% of these students attend provincial schools off reserve, for which first nations pay tuition, generally to the school board that the students are attending.
INAC provides each community with funding for instructional services. Traditionally these amounts were based on a funding formula comprised of a range of factors. This formula was called the band-operated funding formula. However, with first nations assuming control over the delivery of education on reserve, INAC allows greater first nations flexibility to establish and meet local education priorities and needs. All first nations receive a base per student funding amount, which is then supplemented to reflect the local realities such as school size, remoteness, and socio-economic conditions. This methodology varies from region to region.
In addition to hiring teachers, first nations have the ability to use the funding provided under the instructional services stream to purchase new classroom equipment, including computers, textbooks, school supplies, computer software, or library books. They can hire library and other resource persons, invest in new physical education equipment, and develop in-class course work around language and culture. The flexibility is there for first nations to manage the design and delivery of education programs and services within their communities.
In addition to instructional services, funding is provided for student services and transportation, as well as targeted initiatives such as special education services, cultural education centres, teacher recruitment and retention, parental and community engagement, youth employment, and connectivity services.
When you move beyond the debate about whether and how strong the relationship is between investments and outcomes, what becomes evident is the need for any investment in education to be supported by a sound performance measurement system.
Many first nations schools lack the tools to undertake the activities which are well advanced in most provincial systems. Implementation of province-wide standardized tests, school success plans and performance measurement systems can be used to improve student achievement over time.
When used effectively, these activities equip educators with the information needed to make strategic adjustments to the curriculum, teacher training, and allocation of other resources to respond to student need. In a Canadian report that describes 10 successful aboriginal school case studies, the largest gains in aboriginal education were found in provinces that use assessment programs for schools and student improvement planning.
To this end, since 2006 the Government of Canada has engaged with first nations through the Assembly of First Nations and regional first nations organizations to undertake a series of key reforms in first nations education. Two new education programs were launched in December 2008 to set the foundation for long-term improvement in first nations education. These programs are supported by an investment, set out in Budget 2008, of $268 million over five years and ongoing funding of $75 million in each subsequent year.
The first nations student success program will help schools develop success plans, conduct student assessments, and put in place performance management systems to assess and report on school and student progress. The three key priority areas are literacy, numeracy, and student retention. The education partnerships program has been put in place to develop and enhance tripartite education partnerships with first nations and provinces. Partnerships will support better collaboration among first nations schools, organizations, and provincial education systems. The premise behind the new program is that while the relationship among federal, provincial, territorial, and first nations roles and responsibilities for first nations education is complex, all agree that the partners need to work together to improve student educational outcomes.
A great deal of work needs to be done in first nations education, and INAC is actively engaged with first nations on an agenda of reform. Every year the department undertakes and funds a significant amount of consultation and policy work with the Assembly of First Nations. Last year the Assembly of First Nations provided two reports on school-based performance indicators and on data management.
The First Nations Education Council is another key partner that we regularly work with.
I note that the committee earlier this week reviewed the report that INAC contributed to in 2005. INAC has funded the First Nations Education Council, or FNEC, to undertake, amongst other work, analysis of funding questions. INAC and FNEC jointly funded the research that contributed to the 2005 tuition fees committee final report entitled Analysis of Educational Costs and Tuition Fees: Pre-School, Elementary School and High School Levels.
Recently the INAC Quebec region provided FNEC with $50,000, which FNEC used to undertake a second phase of the education cost drivers study intended to design a funding formula for education that included all 21 cost drivers identified in the 2005 report. I believe you have seen both of these reports.
We are looking forward to working with the First Nations Education Council on implementing the two new programs that we launched this past year. The council's proposals to the first nations student success program and the education partnerships program were approved subject to revisions. Provided they meet the conditions outlined in their letter of decision, the first round of proposals will invest approximately $2.8 million in First Nations Education Council activities.
I would like to acknowledge the extensive work that FNEC undertook in analyzing a very complex issue in their 2005 and 2009 report. Their efforts are certainly welcome given the limited scope of research on this issue in Canada.
It bears noting that the current context has changed since the 2005 report was released, when the council based its analysis on 2001-02 data. The department has since made significant investments in first nations education.
Taking up-to-date data, the Government of Canada invests $1.3 billion every year in various elementary and secondary programs for 120,000 first nations students across Canada. This equates to about $10,800 per student. Using the latest year for which data is available on provincial and territorial expenditures, 2005-06, provincial and territorial expenditures for elementary and secondary school systems averaged $9,700 nationally, ranging from a high of $18,500 per student in Yukon to a low of $7,600 in Prince Edward Island. The Province of Quebec expenditure for that year was $9,100 per student.
However, making direct comparisons between INAC's funding and provincial funding levels is difficult, as each level of government accounts for educational funding in different ways. There are also significant variances in per-student spending among provinces, as you can see by those average numbers, and even greater variation between urban, rural, and remote communities within individual provinces.
We have embarked on a phased approach to improving first nations educational outcomes. Initial steps to improve outcomes are in place with the launch of the two new programs in December 2008.
In addition, we are reviewing current programs around first nations education with the view that subsequent phases of reform would focus on programs that target supports where they are most needed.
We look forward to continuing our important relationship with the First Nations Education Council and other first nations organizations and communities to work together to improve education outcomes for all.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to discuss this important issue with your committee.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the witnesses.
I want to make just one brief comment. I appreciate that you used the words “foundational piece” in focusing on performance. I think that's going to help all of us identify where resources ought to go when we talk about working with the authorities and the first nations in establishing priorities moving forward.
I know that in the Kenora riding, one of the things that we continue to try to do is to look at how students leaving high school on reserves, particularly on the isolated ones, can come out with degrees of equivalency that allow them to avoid having to do a lot of the pre-courses that are often required to get into substantive degrees. I think that's a really important benefit moving forward.
The good news, of course, on the education front is that, while I appreciate Madam Crowder's comments earlier that there are schools in need of serious repair, I've seen a number in my own extensive travels that would suggest that there are some really great new schools in communities across Canada.
Furthermore, since 2006 we have seriously renovated or replaced more than 90 schools, and in the last eight months we have announced the construction of 10 brand-new schools. One of them may very well have been the one that my colleague was referring to. This is addressing an issue that goes back, of course, a couple of decades.
My question, then--and considerations for resources may be a part of this--Christine, is whether you can tell us a little bit more about what other factors affect the delivery of education services to first nations. In particular, could you comment on the isolated communities--I have 25 communities in my riding not accessible by road--and identify some of the differences between first nations education and provincial education models?
I think I'll just start with that.
I just wanted to correct a couple of pieces of information. First of all, the announcement today that Mr. Rickford had a point of order on is in the public domain, in the National Post
. It really isn't our problem if the Conservative members don't know that the minister is making an announcement. Also, it's not about economic development. It's talking about agreements with provinces on education, health issues, and the private sector on economic development. I just want to correct that piece of information for the record.
On the second piece of information, I'm not sure if I can correct this. It would be interesting to see what happens when the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the department get together, because in the PBO's report, they actually say there are 803 school assets in various physical conditions; 726 schools have been reported as permanent structures, whereas 77 have been reported as temporary. Only about 49% of the schools are in good condition. I just wanted to put that on the record.
On the third piece of information, I understood Ms. Cram to say there are differences in formulas across the country, and that the one in B.C. meets B.C.'s needs. I think B.C. would dispute that it meets their needs. I'm referring again back to the First Nations Education Steering Committee. They are talking, again, about the gaps that I have already talked about. They are saying there is approximately 17% less funding, but they also say that in the ongoing negotiations between B.C. and the department, the federal government's latest offer does not reflect the need for comparable funding for first nations schools, nor does it reflect the additional costs that will be associated with the implementation of jurisdiction, such as increased governance and administrative costs.
We are hearing you talk about performance standards. I want to make sure that the committee understands that in the first nations education jurisdiction, in fulfilling the promise, they indicate that school certification and standards have been implemented through the First Nations Schools Association since 2003. Teacher standards and certification were piloted in the fall of 2008; curriculum and exam standards were completed in 2008.
I'm hearing you say that it's all about performance. I'm sure Quebec is in the same boat. I would suggest, Mr. Chair, that it would be good to hear from the First Nations Education Steering Committee, because this is a model that the minister often touts as being a good model. I think it will be important to hear from them, but we have the performance standards in place.
What's the delay in getting the funding to British Columbia?
I have three comments to make, Mr. Chairman.
Ms. Crowder, I listened carefully to your suggestion to call another group from B.-C. to appear. I have a suggestion in the same vein. Perhaps we should go to them, perhaps even to B.C. It would give us an opportunity to visit some schools. Some things were said this morning about what state these schools are in which would be a concern to me if I were a departmental official. I think it will be worthwhile to go and visit a few schools. That would be my first comment.
Second, I sat on another committee that was considering the future of television, as well as a private member's bill which aimed to curb the influence of TV violence on youth. We spoke to everyone except the youth, and it would seem we are doing the same thing here. We're speaking to everyone except the students at the primary, secondary and post-secondary level. In our deliberations we should consider meeting with student groups and student representatives to get the opinions of those directly concerned.
My third comment has to do with post-secondary education. Without wanting to diminish the importance of grade school and high school, post-secondary education is what I am interested in. If I heard the figures correctly, there are over 30,000 potential aboriginal students at the post-secondary level and there are 45 aboriginal institutions which can accommodate 10,000 students. That would mean that over two-thirds of aboriginal students at the post-secondary level will be attending non-aboriginal institutions.
Regardless of how long it takes, I would like the department to inform us of the nature of the agreements. I also would like it to provide us with a list of the agreements that exist between the department and post-secondary institutions, either from the provinces — the provinces for the relevant ministries — or directly from the universities and colleges. I would also like to know how they are funded.
The University of Ottawa is in my riding. Under a previous government I had asked my colleague to help me obtain funding from the Department of Health to set aside six spots for aboriginal students at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine. It did happen, but I recall that it was difficult to do.
What is the department's position on these types of initiatives? Ms. Cram knows what I am talking about, because I have been corresponding with her and with one of her supervisors. If possible, I would like to obtain a report from the department on the agreements we have signed with institutions or departments in the area of post-secondary education.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.