Whipping cash-starved native schools into shape won’t work

Editorial | Published Oct 28, 2013 by The Toronto Star

The shortcomings of Canada’s aboriginal education system have been well-documented. For decades Ottawa has underfunded reserve schools, ignored their disproportionately high dropout rate, and shrugged off the funding gap between reserve schools and provincial schools.

It should have been good news this past week when Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt rolled out the First Nations Education Act, a comprehensive plan to upgrade the quality of aboriginal education.

But the reforms the minister proposed were so heavy-handed that First Nations immediately struck a defensive posture, branding the plan dictatorial and patronizing. Aboriginal leaders accused him of imposing onerous demands without providing the resources to meet them; spurning their pleas for collaboration and ignoring the United Nations, which urged Ottawa not to rush ahead unilaterally.

The opposition parties echoed those concerns in Parliament. Jonathan Genest-Jourdain, aboriginal affairs critic for the New Democratic Party, warned that Valcourt was launching his overhaul of aboriginal education “in a climate of utter distrust.”

The bill is needlessly confrontational. It empowers the government to seize control of First Nations schools that aren’t meeting Ottawa’s standards. It authorizes federal inspectors to review each school once a year, recommend improvements and appoint a manager if they were not implemented. It does not provide a single dollar to address the $2,000- to $3,000-per-student funding gap between reserve schools and provincial schools. It would not lift the 2-per-cent-a-year on funding for aboriginal education that has prevailed since the Conservatives took power in 2006.

Read more: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2013/10/28/whipping_cashstarved_native_schools_into_shape_wont_work_editorial.html

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