North’s K-12 system not preparing students for post-secondary education, task force finds

A federal task force on post-secondary education in the North released its final report on Wednesday. He highlighted a failing K-12 education system and a lack of access to safe and affordable housing among 11 barriers to post-secondary student success.

The task force was established by Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal in October 2020 to investigate the successes and failures of the post-secondary education system and to identify the barriers Northerners face in receiving a post-secondary education.

It reviewed research and plans from northern governments and post-secondary institutions, and invited people working in the sector to speak to its members. The task force also heard from more than 800 northerners through engagement sessions and surveys.

The report, titled An urgent need: post-secondary education in the North, by the North, for the North made it clear that students across the North are not ready to complete Grade 12 to enter the post-secondary education system.

“There is basic secondary education to qualify to enter a tertiary institution. It just doesn’t achieve its goal,” said a participant in the NWT engagement session.

Upgrading is daunting and expensive

According to the report, more than 22% of former students who responded to the Task Force’s survey needed two or more professional development courses to meet admission requirements for various post-secondary programs.

The report notes that this places a significant financial burden on Indigenous governments.

As one participant from the Yukon said:

“Not only does it disappoint [students] have to do the upgrade, but they have to do it for several years. And first nations are paying for the upgrade. »

Melanie Bennett is the Executive Director of the Yukon First Nations Education Branch. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Melanie Bennett of the Yukon First Nations Education Branch said one of the most surprising findings is the lack of accountability in the K-12 system.

“It was clear during our consultation that a large number of students did not have a full understanding of the necessary graduation requirements and that many Indigenous students graduate on what is known as a mature graduate “, she said.

The report also showed that, on average, First Nations students took longer to graduate.

To improve, the task force noted that the K-12 system must respond to high teacher and principal turnover rates, provide better career or academic guidance and counseling for students. It also needs funding for more space and programming.

The task force also recommends involving families more in the education of their children and better recognizing and integrating the cultures, languages ​​and learning styles of Aboriginal students.

Housing a major obstacle

Students across the North have indicated that inadequate housing impacts their ability to access post-secondary education opportunities.

They shared that their housing situations are often unsafe or overcrowded, which affects their ability to study or even move to communities with post-secondary learning centers.

A Nunavut Pledge participant said, “I almost pulled out of the NTEP (Nunavut Teacher Education Program) because I had to make sure I got housing because I expect that if I hadn’t gotten housing, I should have found a job that provided me with housing.

Finding adequate and affordable staff housing is also an issue at the K-12 and post-secondary levels, making it more difficult to recruit and retain staff.

The report recommended providing dedicated funding for the construction of “new and/or renovations to existing student housing in the North that reflects appropriate cultural, social and environmental contexts.”

Bennett said another missing piece in the post-secondary puzzle is an appreciation for Indigenous culture and ways of knowing and being.

“We heard over and over again during the consultation that many students start and don’t finish because they just couldn’t be far from home or there was no connection for them when they were pursuing post-secondary education,” she said.

But she said this challenge also presents an opportunity to improve post-secondary education through land-based learning.

The task force has not set any timelines, but asks federal and territorial governments, Indigenous governments, post-secondary institutions, communities, families and learners themselves to consider the calls to action and think about how they can be accomplished. .

The report also recognized the Yukon for having the only university north of the 60th parallel.