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April 30, 2014 – Urgent action by the federal government is required to address the persistently low high-school completion rates among young First nation adults living on-reserve, according to a new C.D. Howe Institute report. In “Are We Making Progress? New Evidence on Aboriginal Education Outcomes in Provincial and Reserve Schools,” author John Richards concludes that on-reserve education is in crisis. According to recently released 2011 census results, 58 percent of young adults living on-reserve have not completed high school. While results among young First Nation adults living off-reserve improved between the 2006 and 2011 censuses, there was little change among those living on-reserve.

As key reforms, he advocates federal commitment to a funding formula based on transparent funding for reserve schools equivalent to that for provincial schools similarly located, and to professionalizing of reserve school administration.

“I fully support the federal government’s recently tabled legislation, Bill C-33, in so far as it addresses these needs,” commented Richards. “It deserves broad parliamentary support,” he added.

Richards added, “the recently released 2011 census evidence confirms the strong link between higher education levels, higher employment rates and higher earnings. The policy implications are clear: to reduce Aboriginal poverty, we need policy that encourages near-universal high-school completion. These insights are critical for provincial and federal governments trying to address the enormous economic challenges in their respective Aboriginal communities.”

Richards examines results from the 2011 census and finds mixed results compared to the 2006 census. The good news is that young adults across Canada aged 20-24 who identified as North American Indian/First Nation and were living off-reserve, and those who identified as Métis, had considerably lower high school drop-out rates in 2011 than in 2006. Yet, the incomplete secondary studies statistic for the off-reserve Indian/FN population is still three times the rate for young non-Aboriginals and the Métis rate is twice as high.

Richards finds that British Columbia and Ontario have made the strongest improvements when it comes to Aboriginal graduation rates and that Manitoba has performed by far the worst. In Manitoba, the incomplete rate among young Indian/FN adults living on-reserve is 12.3 points above the national average; the BC rate is 17.3 points below the national average. This equates to a dramatic 30 point spread. Outcomes in BC and Ontario are uniformly better than the national average for all Aboriginal groups; in the Prairie provinces, they are generally worse. Outcomes in Quebec are mixed: worse than average for Indian/FN on-reserve, better than average for Indian/FN off-reserve.

As baby boomers reach age 65 over the next two decades, the population share in the active labour market will inevitably decline. The Aboriginal population is younger than the non-Aboriginal and their share of the population in western Canada is rapidly rising. This trend accentuates the importance in the West of overcoming weak Aboriginal education outcomes, noted Richards.

The C.D. Howe Institute is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies. It is Canada’s trusted source of essential policy intelligence, distinguished by research that is nonpartisan, evidence-based and subject to definitive expert review. It is considered by many to be Canada’s most influential think tank.

Click here for the full report.

For more information contact: John Richards, Professor, School of Public Policy, Simon Fraser University and Fellow-in-Residence, C.D. Howe Institute; or Colin Busby, Senior Policy Analyst, C.D. Howe Institute  416-865-1904; E-Mail: jfleming@cdhowe.org.