Aboriginal education programs in British Columbia's public school system and their relation to Aboriginal student school completion

Julie Luce Desroches
Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University
July, 2005
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In British Columbia (B.C.), Canada, 90% of Aboriginal students attend provincial public schools but they are more likely to drop out of school than their non- Aboriginal peers. Recent trends suggest that the number of Aboriginal graduates is increasing, and that Aboriginal student graduation rates vary considerably across B.C.'s public school districts. The variability in Aboriginal student school completion rates across school districts may be explained in part by the variation in Aboriginal education programs across districts. Within a developmental-systems and cultural framework for studying risk and resilience among Aboriginal youth, the primary goal of the present research project was to assess whether, and to what extent, B.C. public school district Aboriginal education programs were related to Aboriginal student school completion. A telephone interview was developed, and Aboriginal education representatives in fifty school districts in B.C. were interviewed to evaluate which Aboriginal education programs had been implemented in the districts between the 1995/1996 and 2000/2001 academic years. Responses to these interviews were quantified, and scores were compared to the district graduation and drop-out rates in June, 2001 of Aboriginal students who entered grade 8 in September, 1995. Results indicated that certain Aboriginal education programs, including collaborations with organizations outside the district and specialized services for Aboriginal students, were related to Aboriginal student school retention, although the impact of these programs on school completion was weak. Results also showed that other individual and community factors, including the student's age and enrolment in special education and the unemployment rate in the community, had an impact on Aboriginal student school completion. These findings have important implications for current and upcoming negotiations of Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreements between districts, Aboriginal communities and the provincial government.