100 reserve schools "not safe," system needs "immediate injection" of cash: panel chair

First Nations schools need an “immediate injection” of money, says the chair of a national, three-person panel created by Ottawa and the Assembly of First Nation to study the education system on reserves.

APTN National News
First Nations schools need an “immediate injection” of money, says the chair of a national, three-person panel created by Ottawa and the Assembly of First Nation to study the education system on reserves.

The National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education called for immediate funding increases for K to 12 First Nation education to coincide with the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year.

“There needs to be an immediate injection of funds into First Nations education so that we can take the pressure off schools, off the system,” said panel chair Scott Haldane, president of YMCA Canada, in an interview with APTN National News to be broadcast this evening

The $3.1 million panel on Wednesday released a report, titled Nurturing the Learning Spirit of First Nation Students, containing a laundry list of problems and deficiencies plaguing First Nations schools across the country

At least 100 schools on reserves “are not safe places for learning,” according to the report.

First Nations students attend schools with limited athletic and recreation programs and have no funding for teaching Indigenous languages or First Nations culture, the report found.

Reserve schools lack the resources to diagnose and help children with special needs and have no ongoing assessments to pinpoint problems in students.

“The panel found that there is clearly evidence of underfunding in First Nation schools,” said Haldane. “When we went to many schools we saw libraries with no books, we saw shops with no equipment, (and) we saw technology that was out of date or inoperable. We heard about teachers who are being paid 20 or 30 per cent less than provincial school teachers with the same qualifications.”

George Lafond, a First Nation consultant, and Caroline Krause, a former faculty associate with the education department at University of British Columbia, also sat on the panel which conducted nation-wide consultation with students, parents, First Nations educators and leaders.

While the panel called for immediate action on its recommendations, Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan called the timelines “aspirational.”

The report calls on the federal government to increase funding in the coming fiscal year for First Nations schools matching percentage increases for schools in provinces.

The report also recommends teachers working in First Nation schools receive pay equal to what their counterparts earn in provincial schools.

The report also recommends the creation of a “child-centred” First Nation Education Act within the next 18 months. The proposed legislation would enshrine the rights of First Nation children to a “quality education” and to their cultural language and identity in law.

The proposed legislation would also create statutory funding for education and define the roles and responsibilities for the different levels of government involved in providing education to First Nations communities.

The proposed legislation would also create a “National Commission for First Nations Education.” The commission would resemble education ministries in provinces, the report said.

The commission would guide “the early implementation of the recommendations” contained in the report. It would also be involved in developing the recommended education legislation, the report said.

The report also calls for the creation of regional First Nation education organization which would resemble school boards and operate under the proposed education commission.

The report also calls for establishing “an accountability and reporting framework to assess improvement in First Nation education.”

The Education Information System, currently under development by the federal Aboriginal Affairs department, could form the foundation for the called for accountability framework, the report said.

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