Writer highlights shortcomings of First Nation education funding

To the Expositor:

In her September 11 letter (‘All children deserve a high quality and relevant education,’ page 5) Carolyn Bennett raises the matter of education funding in Canada, both for First Nations and for the general population, but it is too bad she didn’t recognize the importance of this issue when her party was in power. There has been a withering of programs to widen the experience and skills of all children with the lamentable attrition of music, science laboratories, skilled trades, physical education, physical and political geography, history and a crass failure to implement core studies in family economics and nutrition. These subjects would help to enliven the interest in understanding the world in which we live, and make education vital to the students as it would focus on their life skills. We are in a thrall to the insurance industry to protect through fear of lawsuits the sense of play that burns off the energy of boys so that they can concentrate on academe. I know because I was one who needed breaks to tear around, and then focus on what education had to offer. Boys in particular are falling away from education and the benefits that are intrinsic in gaining life expanding skills.

New skills are needed in our technological world and the infrastructure is expensive to provide, but rather than enhancing the budget for acquiring these skills we are downsizing the education segment of our economy to provide tax cuts and prioritise defence and prison segments. We all know that we need to expand the economy through people with adequate incomes to afford to buy Canadian products, and often education of children and adults provides that level of employment. Industry will only invest in new ventures when the economy justifies that risk.

The Hon. Dr. Carolyn Bennett clearly expressed the current malaise where the children of the First Nations are stigmatised by funding levels that are a Federal responsibility, at two thirds of the level for other children. The gap widens when infrastructure deficits over years exacerbate that divide, and rural areas suffer too as there is a lower population density to justify expensive specialised facilities. With all of these impediments the call is clear that we need to increase spending in education drastically for personal and national long term economic benefits. It has been so for several decades of backsliding on this critical segment of the economy.

In 1996 the Liberal Government imposed a two percent per annum cap in funding for the First Nations Education, which remains unchanged throughout the intervening governments. However, there has been a steady increase in the First Nations population and inflation which erodes any real increase in per capita funding. The Assembly of First Nations has calculated that funding increases of 6.3 percent would have been required to prevent a shortfall. Meanwhile provincial and territorial school systems have received an average of 4.1 percent per year increase despite declining enrollment.

Perhaps now could be a fine time to initiate long term plans for economic growth through parliamentary consensus.

Craig Maxwell
Spring Bay