02/08/2012 11:30 EST | Updated 04/09/2012 05:12 EDT

First Nations Education Gets Failing Grade From Federal Panel


OTTAWA - First Nations education in Canada gets a failing grade in a new report.

A national panel on first nation elementary and secondary education released a long-awaited study Wednesday, saying there really is no national system for aboriginal education.

The report called on the federal government to create a body to oversee First Nations education.

It urged the creation of local organizations which would resemble regular school boards and called for more money for the system.

It also said the right of aboriginal children to a good education should be written in law.

"We were struck by the passion and commitment of the young people that we met and all of the people who are committed to First Nations education," said Scott Haldane, the group's chairman.

"We recognized, however, that they do not have a system of support. There isn't, in fact, a First Nations education system in Canada. And without that support, it's very difficult for them to achieve the goals that they have for young people and for young people to achieve their full potential."

The three-member panel was appointed last year by Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo.

Whether any of the recommendations wind up in the Conservative government's spring budget remains a mystery.

"I'm not going to speculate on the budget, because I have no idea," Duncan said Wednesday.

"The timelines that we're talking about are aspirational timelines. Money can't do everything. What we need is to change structures and other things. Everybody recognizes that. The national chief recognizes that. The national panel recognizes that."

The report is the latest in a long list of studies examining the abysmal rates of high-school graduation and post-secondary achievement for aboriginal peoples.

The Liberal critic for aboriginal affairs called on the Conservatives to waste no time implementing the recommendations.

"Today's announcement reaffirms what we already know," MP Carolyn Bennett said in a statement. "Any reform to First Nations education must put the child first and funding must be based on real, community needs.

"Liberals have been calling for the education funding gap to be closed immediately. The Harper government must implement the national panel's urgent fiscal recommendations in the upcoming budget."

The New Democrats also demanded that the recommendations be included in the budget.

"The recommendations in today's report are not a surprise," NDP MP Linda Duncan said in a statement. "Countless reports — including multiple reports by the auditor general — have called for action on First Nation education with little result.

"The fact is the gap between delivery of education to First Nations and non-First Nations students has widened. First Nations students should not be forced to wait any longer for their right to education to be honoured."

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