Educational Attainment for Younger First Nations

A gap in high school completion rate between First Nations and the rest of the population was anticipated, however, its magnitude was not. To better understand the issue, further work was undertaken.

The key findings of this review are as follows:

  • In a 2004 document, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) indicated that it tracked graduation by simply establishing the ratio of students entering Grade 12 who graduate in the same year. That ratio had been hovering around 30 per cent between 1996/1997 and 2002/2003. While the proportion of graduates did not significantly change during those years, the data show a downward trend35.
  • The Government of Alberta tracks high school graduation rates based on the Grade 10 cohort and looks at students completing high school within three to five years of entering Grade 10. In the 2005/2006 school year, the three-year rate was 70.4 per cent, the four-year rate was 76.2 per cent and the five-year rate was 78.6 per cent. The Government of Alberta estimates that the high school graduation rate for First Nation, Métis and Inuit students remains 15 per cent lower than those individuals who did not report Aboriginal ancestry on the census36.
  • On its website, the Saskatchewan government indicates that “only 30 per cent of First Nations and Métis peoples between 15 to 24 years of age have completed high school ”[37].
  • The Ministry of Education in British Columbia tracks educational performance of Aboriginal students enrolled in the public school system from grades 4 to 12. The report indicates lower performance for students as early as grade four showing that the performance on standardized tests of Aboriginal students was trailing non-Aboriginal students by roughly 10 percentage points in all three key areas (foundation skills, writing and numeracy)[38].
  • In an October 2008 report, the CD Howe Institute39 stated that the gap in high school completion between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people is widening and urged “intense pursuit of better education outcomes”.
Figure 38 : Percentage of Young Adults in Alberta without a High School Diploma (2006)

The 2006 Census provides further insight. Figure 38 shows a significant gap in high school completion between First Nations and non-Aboriginal people aged 20 to 34. By the age of 34, 57 per cent of First Nations on-reserve and a third of First Nations in Alberta have not completed high school compared to 12 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population, therefore, First Nations are three to five times more likely than their non-Aboriginal counterparts to have not completed high school. The upcoming sections on employment (Section 10, Labour Force Participation, Section 9, Income) and income (Section 10, Income) will demonstrate the impact of not completing high school. Earlier, Section 6, highlighted the relationships between health and income. After reviewing mobility of students and high school completion rates of Aboriginal students, a recently released study from British Columbia40 indicates that changing schools can have a significant impact on one’s ability to complete high school. Table 2 shows that high school completion rates significantly diminish with every school change in high school; 56.4 per cent of the Aboriginal students who did not change schools graduated compared to 11.3 per cent of the students who changed schools four times or more.

Table 02: High School Completion and Mobility of Students
Number of school changes (high school only) % of 1998 Aboriginal cohort 6-year completion rate (Graduation June 2004)
No school changes 31.8% 56.4%
1 school change 36.6% 48.9%
2 school changes 19.8% 28.1%
3 school changes 9.7% 17.3%
4 school changes 2.6% 11.3%

View table details »
Source: Aman, C. and Ungerleider, C. “Aboriginal Students and K-12 School Change in British Columbia”, Hope or Heartbreak: Aboriginal Youth and Canada’s Future, Horizons, Policy Research Initiative, 2008

35Basic Departmental Data, 2004, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada

36Alberta High School Student Outcomes, Completion Rates, July 2007, Alberta Education website and Student Outcomes Measures – Based on the Grade 10 Cohort, Alberta
Education, April 2006

37First Nations and Métis Education section, Ministry of Education, Government of Saskatchewan website

38Aboriginal Report – 2005/06 How Are we Doing? – Province – Public Schools Only, 2006, Knowledge Management Department, Ministry of Education, British Columbia

39Richards, J., Closing the Aboriginal / non-Aboriginal Education Gaps, CD Howe Institute, October 2008

40Aman, C. and Ungerleider, C. “Aboriginal Students and K-12 School Change in British Columbia”, Hope or Heartbreak: Aboriginal Youth and Canada’s Future, Horizons,
Policy Research Initiative, 2008