Fewer than half of Indigenous students graduate on time from Edmonton public high schools
Indigenous students in Edmonton continue to have lower high school graduation rates than their non-Indigenous peers.
Annual education results reports, which include statistics from Alberta Education for 2021-22, show that more than 80 per cent of Edmonton public school and Catholic school students finish high school on time, but the completion rates are significantly lower for students who self-identify as First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI).
According to the reports, 67 per cent of FNMI students in Edmonton Catholic schools and 47 per cent of those in Edmonton public schools completed high school in three years. The province-wide three-year high school completion rate for FNMI students was 60 per cent.
The three-year completion rates for FNMI students decreased slightly for both school divisions since the previous school year but they have been increasing over the longer term.
Edmonton Catholic Schools’ previous three-year high school completion average for FNMI students was 61 per cent while the EBSB’s was 45 per cent.
Both districts’ reports warn that “caution should be used” when comparing high school completion rates over time since diploma exams were cancelled during the pandemic.
In their reports, the school districts outlined strategies for supporting Indigenous students, including working with families and communities, addressing calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and hiring more Indigenous staff.
“We have a significant amount of work to do,” said EPSB Superintendent Darrel Robertson during a school board meeting on Tuesday afternoon.
Board chair Trisha Estabrooks acknowledged during the meeting that there was work to do, but she was encouraged by the rising percentage of FNMI students graduating high school within five years.
EPSB’s five-year high school completion rate for FNMI students is 59 per cent.
Christine Meadows, a spokesperson for Edmonton Catholic Schools, said the the division approaches this issue in a holistic manner, connecting with students throughout their educational journey.
“We want our students to see themselves in school, be successful in school, feel welcomed and have a sense of belonging,” she said in an email.
She also said the division’s Braided Journeys program has won awards for its success in increasing high school completion among Indigenous students. The program started in a few high schools but has since expanded to support younger students too.
In the 2019-20 school year, EPSB started a high school completion coach pilot at Queen Elizabeth High School that has since been brought to two other schools.
Ward G trustee Saadiq Sumar asked Robertson if the pilot could be expanded further to reach younger students.
“I think there’s potential there, but we would have to proceed cautiously so we can afford what it is that we aspire to put in place,” Robertson said.
Christine Martineau, an assistant professor in the faculty of education at Concordia University of Edmonton, said learning coaches and cultural programs are important for Indigenous students but so is addressing the systemic barriers to their success.
“For Indigenous students, systemic discrimination is at the root of non-completion and low academic performance,” she said.
Martineau, who is Cree and Métis and dropped out of high school but went on to earn a PhD in educational leadership, said schools were not built with Indigenous students in mind.
She said there are no simple answers to closing the graduation gap but school divisions could benefit from more immersion and bilingual programs for Indigenous languages. More Indigenous teachers and leaders, she said, could mean more role models for students to look up to.
“Keep the individual supports, like the graduation coaches and the Braided Journeys programs, but also look inward at where the systems need to change,” she said.
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