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Yukon not meeting needs of Indigenous, rural students, auditor general finds

Yukon is failing to meet the education needs of many students, and not doing enough to reflect First Nations culture and languages in the classroom, the auditor general has found. 

Report says education department hasn't done its homework to understand education gaps

Audit Principal Jo Ann Schwartz presented the report in Whitehorse on Tuesday. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Yukon is failing to meet the education needs of many students, and not doing enough to reflect First Nations culture and languages in the classroom, the auditor general has found. 

In a report issued on Tuesday, the office of the auditor general focused on the territory's education system, from kindergarten through Grade 12, over the last decade. Its last report on Yukon's education system was issued in 2009.

The new report describes how the territory's education department has committed to providing more inclusive programming — but hasn't really followed through.

It's the same story for Indigenous and rural students, and those with special needs, the report says.

"Half of the teachers who responded to our survey felt that they did not have the supports they needed to deliver inclusive education, and two thirds of those same teachers reported that they lacked sufficient training to do so," the report states.

One of the major issues, according to the report, is that the department of education hasn't done its homework.

For example, it points to the fact that Indigenous students in Yukon are less likely to complete high school, and more likely to drop out, than non-Indigenous students. According to the auditor general, the education department hasn't really tried to figure out why.

"We found that the department did not understand the root causes of the long-standing gaps in student outcomes it had identified. Nor did the department use its student data to help identify those causes," the report says.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Jo Ann Schwartz, audit principal, said her office found the "exact same thing" a decade ago.

"Like we said in the report, it's something the department has to give a lot of attention to. If not, another ten years could go by and another generation of students could be impacted," Schwartz said.   

The report points to the fact that Indigenous students in Yukon are less likely to complete high school, and more likely to drop out. It says the education department hasn't done enough to understand why. (CBC)

Yukon has also failed to adequately reflect First Nations culture and languages in the classroom, the report says.

It says part of the problem is that department of education has not partnered with First Nations to develop effective programming.

"This finding matters because if the department does not meet its legislative responsibility to reflect Yukon First Nations culture and languages in education programs, Yukon students cannot get the kind of education they are entitled to," it says. 

Individual education plans 'particularly troubling'

Students with special needs are also not being well-served, the report says.

As part of its review, the office of the auditor general looked at individual education plans that were crafted for 41 students with special needs, over two school years.

Of the 82 plans in total, only two had the required progress reports, and just five had been reviewed and updated as required.

Four of those plans showed that recommended services and supports had been delivered.

"We saw that very few of the 82 had any evidence that the students got the services or support they were supposed to get. Our overall observation for inclusive education is that the department doesn't know if their approach is working,"  

Government accepts recommendations

The report makes seven recommendations to the department of education, aimed at addressing the gaps in student performance and outcomes, and developing more inclusive classrooms.

It also includes responses from the department.

The department of education has accepted the auditor general's recommendations, and said it will start making some changes immediately. (CBC)

In all cases, the department agreed and accepted the auditor general's recommendations and described measures it would take to answer them.

For example, the department said it would collaborate with First Nations governments during the next school year to better meet the needs of Indigenous students and "track and measure student success and to evaluate program effectiveness."

It also promises to "improve educators' access to supports and materials" next school year, to better reflect Indigenous culture in the curriculum.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said the department was conducting a "full review" of how it supports students with special needs, and also working with First Nations governments to improve education outcomes for Indigenous students.

Written by Paul Tukker with files from Jane Sponagle

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