The aboriginal affairs minister on First Nations schools

A Q&A with John Duncan


Today in Question Period, Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan fielded questions on the consultation he’s launched into education in First Nations communities.

Duncan also discussed that subject briefly earlier this month in an interview with Maclean’s for this story. As the education file gains prominence, here are his answers, edited and condensed, on some key points up for debate:

Q Isn’t funding for First Nations education just too low?

A Because First Nations schools are in small, remote communities they require a higher per student expenditure to be at an equivalent level.

We’ve committed to developing a formula on First Nations funding that will be based on the same principles that the provinces have for their student base. And provinces accept that costs aren’t the same everywhere, they cost more in smaller more remote jurisdictions.

Q Some critics have called for closer links between First Nations schooling and the provincial eduction systems. Is that the ultimate answer?

A The provinces are the experts on delivering education, we are not. So they offer a good example of how to do things. But we’re not saying we have to have the First Nations education system tied in with the provincial system.

But we see that that’s a natural response in many cases. So we’re encouraging aggregation wherever possible.  We’re looking at the ability of economies of scale for curriculum development, for procurement, for teacher certification.

Q Does the approach need to be overhauled from coast-to-coast?

There are examples, like the Mohawk schools where they have their own system in place. They’ve got curriculum, teacher certification, and student outcomes in a very good place. We are in no way trying to impede or impair those successful models. We’ve got a province-wide successful model in Nova Scotia, and a tri-partite agreement in British Columbia. We want to bring all the good results to bear nationally.


The aboriginal affairs minister on First Nations schools

  1. Self directed education is way of future, most teachers are going to be obsolete. Funding levels per pupil would not be serious issue if online resources like Khan Academy were used more. A better education can be had online for free than what most kids receive in public school and taxpayers pay for.

    When prominent U.S. universities began offering free college classes over the Web this year, more than half of the students who signed up were from outside the United States. Consider the story of one of them: Carlos Martinez, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of El Salvador.

    Last spring, Martinez enrolled in a class on electronic circuits offered by edX, the $60 million collaboration between MIT and Harvard to stream “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs, over the Web. He thought it was so good that he began traveling around El Salvador to convince others to join the class andlaunched a blog in English to document his adventures as his country’s first “MOOC advocate.”

  2. ‘Distance education’ has been around for a couple of centuries, and was ideal for FN remote locations…..but never used as far as I know. Figures.

    • Widely used with terrible success rate. Distance education is about as viable an option as home-schooling, which, even in the best-case scenario (well-educated parents), rarely is successful for the students.

      • Well, it’s successful for others. Are you saying it’s not for FN?

  3. He is absolutely right about teacher certification. Would be good if locals could get that and teach part of the curriculum in the tribal language. The curriculum should be close to the provincial guidelines so when the kids graduate and want to go to post secondary or trade schools they are equipped to do so. Ideally part of the curriculum would be tribal customs etc.