Queen's conference aims at attracting and retaining more Aboriginal people to post-secondary education
National Aboriginal leaders Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, Roberta Jamieson and Mary Simon have gathered at Queen’s University to discuss practical solutions for closing the education gap between Aboriginal peoples and the non-Aboriginal population in Canada. The conference brings together more than 150 educators from across the country representing college, university and other post-secondary education systems.
“The benefits of a better education are reaped by the individual, the community and the country as a whole,” says Don Drummond, Matthews Fellow in Global Public Policy, Queen’s School of Policy Studies, who co-chairs the conference with Bob Watts, Fellow, Queen’s School of Policy Studies. “Many post-secondary education institutions are adopting innovative practices to attract and retain more Aboriginal students. The conference is designed to shed light on these practices and see how they could be improved and applied more broadly.”
A recent survey conducted by Environics Institute found that 86 per cent of the urban Aboriginal respondents believed that formal education is very important for improving the lives of Aboriginal peoples. However, they often encounter numerous barriers that have resulted in the underrepresentation of Aboriginal peoples in post-secondary education systems.
"One year ago, First Nations reached out to the public and private sector, indeed, all people in Canada, with a Call to Action on First Nation Education. Events like this one at Queen's University can help us find solutions to close the education gap,” says Mr. Atleo, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations. “If we commit ourselves to closing the education gap between First Nations and the rest of the population, we will add billions to Canada's economy while strengthening First Nations citizens and communities. We must build on the success of the Post Secondary Student Support Program, and strengthen our collective focus on getting more First Nations people into colleges, universities, and Indigenous Institutes of Higher Learning.”
The conference will identify best practices that can be applied to specific issues such as:
• Role models and teacher training
• Outreach and recruitment strategies
• University and college entrance requirements
• The transition to a post-secondary education institution
• Promoting retention
“Aboriginal students want what other Canadian youth want—access to a post-secondary education,” says Roberta Jamieson, President and CEO, National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation. “The biggest barrier remains a lack funding; there is a myth that Aboriginal students have at their disposal ‘cradle to grave’ funding and it must be demolished. The Foundation has a track record of creating success by funding students in need, but this requires investment and the time is now for a serious investment in Aboriginal education.”
Taking action to address the education gap could have a profound impact for Aboriginal peoples, their communities and the entire country. Higher levels of educational attainment raise income for individuals who in turn carry those benefits into their communities. There is also a co-relation between post-secondary education and better health conditions.
Canada’s cumulative GDP would be raised $401-billion over a 25-year period if Aboriginal education and labour market outcomes matched the non-Aboriginal population, according to the Centre for the Study of Living Standards. As the youngest and fastest growing segment of the Canadian population, Aboriginal people have the potential to meet the demand for skilled labour that public and private sector sources believe will only increase over the next several years.
“The reality of Inuit education in Canada is that too many of our young people are not attending school and too few are graduating. This is the greatest social policy challenge of our time,” says national Inuit leader Mary Simon, President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and Chairperson, National Committee on Inuit Education. “For the past several years, Inuit have worked to draft a bold new vision for Inuit education in Canada. As I prepare for the public release of that vision in the coming days, I am pleased to join my fellow Aboriginal leaders in a discussion of solutions to address this challenge. The momentum has never been greater to bring about change in our communities and in the lives of our children.”
More information about the Queen’s Conference on Indigenous Issues in Post-Secondary Education can be found online.