Too many Aboriginal youth do not complete high school and leave without the necessary skills for employment. They spoke at great length about their experiences, both positive and negative with the Educational Systems. Participants were also aware of the numbers of Aboriginal youth who either had dropped out, were at risk, or were having difficulties in the Education System and were aware of the impact that the high drop out rates would have on their future employment opportunities.
"There should be an all Native school so there's no racism. Like Chinese school on the weekend." Aboriginal male - 14 yrs
In Canada as a whole, Aboriginal people have a much lower educational attainment than Canadians overall with only 20% of students finishing high school as compared to 70% of non-Aboriginal students at the National level. In Calgary, 40% of Aboriginal people have less than a high school education. In the non-Aboriginal population this figure is 26%. Six percent have a university degree as compared to 19% of the non-Aboriginal population (Removing Barriers, 1999).
"A lot of Natives are dropping out of school cause they think partying is more important than getting an education." Aboriginal female - 17 yrs
"I found that all my teachers told me that I wouldn't be able to accomplish my dreams to graduate because I was Aboriginal" Aboriginal female - 17 yrs
Many of the young people, both in school and out of school spoke about the frustration they felt in mainstream education. Aboriginal youth spoke of the racism, poverty, and bullying and overall violence they or their friends suffered as students and how this impacted their ability to remain in school. Labeling of Aboriginal youth as, "a problem" and having a tendency to fail, as well were factors that led to high drop out rates.
"Aboriginal school from K-12. Also if you could get a diploma or degree from there and graduate would be the best. Then there would be no racism as you change grades." Aboriginal female - 13 yrs
Some of the young people we spoke to had a difficult time staying in school. Approximately 50% of the participants were currently out of school; either living in marginalized situations, in treatment programs for addictions, were homeless or were not able to live with their families for reasons of personal security. For these young people, they relayed to us how they had entered the school system with little or no support systems, socio-economic needs and a lowered sense of personal and cultural esteem. Without a strong support system to fall back to in times of stress coupled with family pressures, it was difficult to remain focused on getting an education. A Native Needs Assessment (Social Services Department 1984) identified the most serious problems in school for Aboriginal youth to be socio-economic circumstances, e.g. low income/poverty, cultural collisions, and a systemic lack of knowledge of Aboriginal culture.
"More encouragement and support for kids when they go into homes, schooling and support to get jobs and go back to school." Aboriginal female - 15 yrs
On the flip side, some Aboriginal youth spoke about positive educational experiences. Culturally specific programming such as the Native Pride Program, Aboriginal support workers and liaison workers were cited most frequently. Alternative programming such as the Plains Indian Cultural Survival School was suggested as being successful, as it offered the cultural teachings and developed student's pride in being Aboriginal. Aboriginal role models, in particular students in post secondary programs were also a positive influence. In all cases, school environments, cultural programs and counselors, that recognized and supported the contributions of Aboriginal people to Canada and the world were by far those that had the most successful students. Aboriginal youth are asking for the tools to remain in school. Improvements in the quality and cultural relevance of education; improvements to the classroom effectiveness of teachers; as well as support for community and parental involvement in schools were cited. These issues were identified as areas for service development. Recommendations will be discussed further in section three.