Aboriginal Student Retention and FPSJA
Québec researchers specializing in education agree that support projects aimed at increasing student retention must draw on certain research-based components. For FPSJA, the student retention determinants recognized by researchers set to the task by Réunir Réussir served as a reference for the approval and management of funded projects.
There are numerous determinants of student retention, but researchers with varied and complementary approaches unanimously supported those selected by Réunir Réussir with respect to their importance as targets of any action aimed at reducing school dropout.
The committee of experts consulted therefore agreed to narrow the list of determinants to those that had undergone rigorous assessment and showed greater measured impacts on dropout and school retention. In addition, the prioritization exercise had to favour determinants that could be shaped by social and community actions taken as part of regional and local mobilization that complemented the school’s initiatives.
Determinants of student retention selected by Réunir Réussir and CTREQ for FPSJA (without adaptation to the aboriginal context)
- Family factors
- Recognition of the value of education
- Parental supervision, including school, family, and community relationships
- Personal factors
- Association with peers
- Physical activity
- Tobacco, alcohol, and drug use
- Work-study balance
- Feelings of depression
- Educational achievement in reading, writing, and math
- School factors
- School climate
- Environmental factors
- Sociocultural and socioeconomic context
- Place of residence (neighbourhood)
- Resources available
Since the realities of education in an aboriginal context are different than in non-aboriginal communities, the student retention determinants that Réunir Réussir and CTREQ selected for FPSJA could not be completely adapted to aboriginal realities, and everyone was well aware of this. However, the use of these determinants helped offset the lack of aboriginal educational determinants formally recognized by the scientific community and met the administrative requirements for Réunir Réussir funding.
Under the responsibility of Concordia University researcher Natasha Blanchet-Cohen, the assessment of current FPSJA projects will make it possible to prepare, upon the anticipated completion of work in summer 2015, a list of factors specific to aboriginal realities that should be taken into account in implementing any initiative aimed at aboriginal student retention. Most of these factors closely linked to aboriginal culture and realities will be posted on this page.
The available scientific, empirical, and ancestral aboriginal knowledge has already helped us make progress with respect to certain aspects to consider in carrying out a project fostering aboriginal student retention in the community.
Accordingly, some researchers believe the Réunir Réussir determinants presented above must be reviewed and adapted from the aboriginal perspective, with the following additions:
- Recognition of the value of aboriginal cultural identity through the transmission of knowledge
- Participation of elders
- Greater appreciation for aboriginal culture and knowledge
- Consideration of learning styles specific to the aboriginal culture such as:
- Oral tradition
- Learning in successive stages
- Learning by observation
The aboriginal context in Québec
Québec’s aboriginal population is growing more rapidly and its age profile is much younger than that of the general population. Between 2001 and 2010, the aboriginal population increased by nearly 15.7% vs. 6.9% for Québec as a whole. In January 2011, it was estimated that nearly half of Québec’s aboriginal population was under age 30.
In 2010, the school-age aboriginal population was estimated at 22,649 people age 5 to 19. This number represented 1.7% of the school-age population of Québec as a whole. It should be noted, however, that the number of non-status aboriginal students enrolled in the Québec school system at all levels of education is difficult to determine. The only reliable data available to MELS mainly concerns aboriginals in agreement territories (Cree, Inuit, and Naskapi) who attend preschool, primary school, and secondary school (Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport, February 2013).
In 2009–2010, the vast majority of students identified as aboriginal attended a community school. The proportion was estimated at 95.2% in preschool, nearly 90% in primary, and 81.1% in secondary, the highest rate in Canada.
Québec differs from other Canadian provinces with respect to the distribution of it aboriginal population. The province has the most First Nations members on community territories, the reserves (Richards, 2011). Some First Nations communities enroll their children in the Québec public school system (Sioui, 2013), either out of obligation or due to the absence of schools in their community, or by choice, as noted by Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse Québec (CDPDJ, 2009).
Although most young aboriginals start their school life in aboriginal community schools, many continue their secondary and postsecondary studies in non-aboriginal institutions. Aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities must therefore collaborate to ensure an academic and cultural transition that addresses the needs of young aboriginals.
More aboriginal students educated in Québec schools (off reserve) graduate vs. the average for off-reserve aboriginal students in Canada, although this result is far behind that of British Columbia with a gap of nearly 50% between the two (Richards, 2014). However, according to a report on inclusive education and achievement, among aboriginals in particular, presented to Conseil supérieur de l’éducation du Québec, the Québec curriculum and educational system “are still not appropriate for their educational needs, and adjustments must be made” (CDPDJ, 2009, p. 19) and “there are numerous challenges in educating these children” (ibid., p. 20). Since this curriculum is still in use, there is reason to believe that the situation has not changed.
Although educational outcomes are improving, there are still significant disparities between the academic success rate of aboriginals and non-aboriginals. In this regard, based on 2011 Canadian statistical data, Richards (2014) noted that 58% of aboriginals age 20 to 24 did not yet have a secondary school diploma.
According to the experts on aboriginal school success and retention, there is a critical need to establish teaching methods that are adapted to aboriginal realities and place importance on promoting aboriginal culture to foster not only aboriginals’ personal and professional development but also Québec’s cultural, social, and economic development.