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MOU on Aboriginal youth education in B.C. signed

The First Nations Education Steering Committee and the province's representative for children and youth cemented their long-standing working relationship this morning with the signing of a memorandum of understanding on improving education for Aboriginal children and youth in B.C.

Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond and Steering Committee President Tyrone McNeil held a ceremony together during the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) board meeting in downtown Vancouver to sign the MOU, which recognizes the fundamental rights of First Nations youth and children to "culturally appropriate education" as well as their "culture, language, community, and family connections."

"I'm really pleased with agreement that we're signing, because really we've been working closely for a number of years together, and we've been working for one thing, which is to nurture the learning spirit of First Nations children," says Turpel-Lafond.

"The agreement we're entering into today makes that formal."

Roughly 10 per cent of the kids enrolled in the province's public system identify as Aboriginal, with just under four per cent of those living outside the family home. The current graduation rate for Aboriginal children is only 50 per cent, compared to 79 per cent for non-Aboriginal students.

McNeil says there's a lot of work left to be done and commitments of support and cooperation are needed between the Ministry of Education and First Nations communities in B.C., and for that to work relevant data needs to be collected.

"Say in my school district, for example, Fraser-Cascade, number 78, we've got three high schools: one high school is doing really well, one is kind of okay, the other one isn't doing well at all, so if you lumped all of our high schools together in one report, you'd have no idea that one high school is not doing very well at all," he told The Tyee.

"We've got to identify the relevant data that we need, ensure it's collected, ensure it's collected over time, and more importantly, when we're collecting data, is identifying areas of weakness and areas that need support and do something, because there's tons of data out there right now that school districts, principals, teachers, the ministry is sitting on, and they're aware of it, but they're doing nothing."

Improving education for Aboriginal youth will take a funding commitment, as well, on the part of the federal and provincial governments, says Turpel-Lafond, who adds that she wants less talk, more action from governments.

"On reserve there are a lot of significant issues around the federal funding not being adequate. Off reserve there are significant issues around district by district, whether or not the support is there for Aboriginal kids that are behind to catch up," she says.

"So more learning plans for Aboriginal children that have some individual goals that will see them meet targets, not wait until the end of Grade 12 to find out they're not going to graduate, but we're talking about right at the kindergarten level."

Katie Hyslop reports on education for the Tyee Solutions Society, and is a freelance reporter for a number of other outlets including The Tyee.

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