Aboriginal Education Task Force chair Lois Boone says an aboriginal choice’ school isn’t segregation. It’s not forced segregation, as students, First Nation or Caucasian or whatever, have a choice of whether to attend. However, it is segregation in terms of setting people apart from others, which is the definition of segregation. The idea of a setting a choice’ school also isn’t unique. The Toronto school board is grappling with the similar idea for its black students.
An aboriginal choice school would focus on aboriginal culture, content and learning styles. Just as the black choice school suggested for Toronto, the reason for suggesting these types of schools lies in the fact that ethnic students often don’t fare well in the standard school system.
The 2006-07 Foundations Skills Assessment testing showed Grade 4 and Grade 7 aboriginal students in the district lagged behind their peers in numeracy, reading comprehension and writing skills. Only 44 per cent of Grade 7 aboriginal students were meeting or exceeding expectations in reading comprehension, compared with 66 per cent for all students in the district.
Graduation rates are even worse. But is a choice’ school the right answer?
The most compelling argument for choice’ schools is the success of French Immersion schools, whose students excel academically. According to newly released data from the Ministry of Education, public school enrolment in French Immersion in B.C. has reached 41,002, an increase of 1,492 students over last year. Traditional schools are also known to produce better students.
Is an aboriginal choice school going to have the same result? To some degree it might. However, we also have to look at the root causes of why aboriginal kids don’t fare as well in school as others. Is it simply because they aren’t taught aboriginal history using aboriginal methods? There is no doubt the aboriginal history of this country could be better taught in our schools. Many of us grew up learning more about the pharaohs in Egypt than we did about aboriginal history. But will that be enough to overcome the obstacles facing many aboriginal students?
The biggest of those obstacles, for many, is growing up in poverty.
An aboriginal choice school may be fine, but will not be successful until we deal with the issues of poverty on reserves and in many First Nations communities.
The tools of success, for every human being regardless of race, are delivered in the first six years of life before entering the school system. Simple things, like reading to a child from the day it is born will give the child the tools it needs to succeed in the school system and beyond. A child who has not been given the tools to learn will not fare well in any school system. Yes, specialized schools and programs can help, but the building blocks have to be put in place first. It’s one of the reasons the provincial government is looking at in-school daycares and having Kindergarten for children as young as three years old.
As for the school district, it can only deal with students who have entered the system. An aboriginal choice school won’t do much to mitigate the reasons of why one is perceived to be required.
Maybe it’s pie in the sky stuff, but perhaps if we focused on our commonalities rather than our differences we would all be in a better place.
Bill Phillips is the winner of the British Columbia/Yukon Community Newspaper Association’s 2007 Outstanding Columnist award.