Wednesday, July 23, 2008

More funding for First Nations' Education urged by foundation

The Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation has come out strongly to urge both the Federal and Provincial governments to increase the amount of financial assistance that they dedicate to First Nation students.

Key among those funding requests would be to provide better training and to create more support staff positions that would be dedicated to educating First Nations youth about the number of options available in post secondary education.

They delivered their recommendations in a report called: Factors Affecting The Use of Student Financial Assistance by First Nations Youth, which outlined the roadblocks to further education that many First Nations students face and ways that the two levels of government can take on those challenges.

Tuesday's Daily News provided more details on the report and the Foundations goals in pushing for more government assistance.

Extra education support urged
Government called on to do more to help First Nations learners
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Pages one and three

Both the federal and the provincial governments need to take the advice offered in a new report recommending ways to improve financial assistance to First Nations students, states North Coast MLA Gary Coons.

The Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation's report, Factors Affecting the Use of Student Financial Assistance by First Nations Youth, concludes that both levels of government need to better train and create more support staff positions dedicated to educating First Nations youth about post-secondary education funding, as well as give more funding opportunities to First Nations students.

"The foundation has laid out a roadmap for our governments to enhance access to post-secondary education among First Nations people," said Coons. "The recommendations in this report are straight forward and they make sense."

The Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation report also states that more funding and support is necessary to increase internet access and connectivity for First Nations youth and students, which it says is critical in transferring important post-secondary opportunities that are available to Aboriginal, and in many cases all Canadian students.

"I think the British Columbian government, in particular, should be ensuring that internet access is available in northern communities," said Coons. "Not just in personal homes, but publicly available. This report makes it clear that internet access increases knowledge about post-secondary funding opportunities."

Telus recently recommended that the federal government invest $1 billion to be used to create a new fund to help finance the construction of broadband Internet infrastructure into remote and First Nations communities that would otherwise be uneconomical to build into.

"An investment of $1 billion in such a national project will be an investment in Canada's future, fostering innovation by businesses operating in rural areas while enhancing the lifestyles enjoyed by Canadians who are able to connect to the information economy for the first time," said Janet Yale, TELUS executive vice-president of Corporate Affairs.

The report also notes that there is a gap between what First Nations youth expect from bands in terms of education funding, and the actual funding available. Only nine percent of Aboriginal Canadians currently hold post-secondary degrees, compared to 23 percent of non-Aboriginal Canadians, one of many statistics highlighting the education gap facing First Nations students across the country.

"First Nations youth need more access to peers and role models who can help them build a realistic plan for their education," said Coons.

"The British Columbian and Canadian governments need to step up to the plate, and make sure that First Nations youth have all the information they need to make informed educational decisions. First Nations youth are not the only ones losing opportunities when they choose not to pursue post-secondary education because of funding issues. As a province and as a country, we are losing out on the skills that First Nations students could share with us."

The First Nations Education Steering Committee stated earlier this year that elementary and secondary education for First Nations communities in British Columbia needs more federal funding, which as of the 2005-06 school year lagged behind that of the province by around $1,500 per full-time equivalent student. Also earlier this year, Ottawa's Centre for the Study of Living (GDP) concluded that First Nations educational attainment could have an economic benefit of $71 billion by 2017. However, that will only happen if First Nations people have the same graduation rates of all other Canadians, a goal the Auditor General has placed some 28 years away.

"I am concerned that the Harper government is reneging on their obligation to implement a First Nations education policy that recognizes First Nations right to self-determination, and fully involve First Nations as the final authority in decision-making that directly affects their lives," said Coons.

"The lack of federal funds means thousands more First Nations students will continue to have a real struggle for equality in the education system - elementary, secondary and post-secondary."

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