If you give First Nations students the tools they need, they will succeed

by R. H. Paul Martin. Posted March 6, 2015



The youngest and fastest growing segment of the Canadian population is underperforming academically to a dramatic degree. Nearly 40 per cent of indigenous Canadians do not graduate from high school, and the figure is nearly 60 per cent for First Nations people on reserves, rates that far exceed the Canadian average. What these statistics show is that the majority of First Nations students are not reaching their full potential and the question is why not?

The answer can be found in many areas, from extraordinarily high poverty levels to the underfunding of both healthcare and primary and secondary school education by the federal government. It was in this latter context that some of us enacted the Model School pilot project in September 2009.

Based on the very successful Turnaround Schools program developed by the Ontario government over a decade ago, the Model School project, known as Wiiji Kakendaasodaa: (Let’s All Learn Together) was a partnership between the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative (MAEI), the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at  the University of Toronto, the leadership of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation and Walpole Island First Nation, students, teachers and parents at the two host schools: Hillside School and Walpole Island Elementary School.

The project taught teachers new teaching methods, raised expectations for students and introduced a mandatory 90 minutes of daily reading and writing instruction. The results, announced in Toronto a few weeks ago were nothing short of outstanding.

Before the program began, 13 per cent of First Nations students at the two participating schools reached the provincial standard on Grade 3 reading tests, and 33 per cent met the provincial standard in writing. In Grade 6, 17% of students met the provincial reading standard and 39% of Grade 6 students met the provincial writing standard.

After implementing new teaching methods in the Model School Project, almost 70 per cent of Grade 3 students achieved the reading provincial standard and more than 90 per cent hit Ontario’s writing provincial standard, which surpassed the provincial average. In Grade 6, 72% of students met both the reading and writing provincial standard.

Also of particular note was the fact that the percentage of students identified as having special needs greatly decreased. During Wiiji Kakendaasodaa, the percentage of students identified for special education services decreased from 45% to 19% in Senior Kindergarten to Grade 3; the percentage decreased from 24% to 4% in Grades 4 to 6.

These results provide irrefutable evidence that First Nations students can and will succeed if given the opportunity. For this reason the project should be replicated in every First Nations community where it is needed across this country.

Teaching literacy is a moral obligation. It is also essential to harnessing the economic potential of Canada for Indigenous children, who represent the youngest and fastest growing segment of our population.

What should be done? The Government of Canada should act. Proper funding will make the difference. The proof is here.

To see the full report: http://www.maei-ieam.ca/pdf/Model-School-Feb%2022.pdf