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Many students in Yukon missing school, says youth advocate; review launched

Yukon's child and youth advocate has a launched a review into attendance among students in high school and under.

Most kids identified as missing a lot of school are First Nations

The review will look into what's going on in the lives of kids that might stop them from attending school. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

The Yukon child and youth advocate has a launched a review into school attendance among students in high school and under.

"What we found in providing individual advocacy is that many children are missing school far more than they should be," said Annette King.

"Because of the complexity of it, we want to understand this in a full review."

King said the review will look into what's going on in the lives of kids that might stop them from attending school. It will also look at how the territory's education department might help fix things.

"We call it 'systemic in nature' when we are seeing many cases on an individual basis and that there's something about the system, so in this case, the education system that needs to be addressed to support resolution to the advocacy issues," King said.

She said her office, through its advocacy work, has identified more than 100 kids who aren't going to school regularly or at all.

King said she doesn't have the data on any particular hotspots, if any exist at all, and which grade levels are most represented, but she said more than half of the students they've identified as missing a lot of school are First Nations.

"So that is an overrepresentation," she said. 

'Because of the complexity of it, we want to understand this in a full review,' said Annette King. (Yukon Child and Youth Advocate Office)

According to the education department's website, the average number of days students in Yukon have missed school has increased in recent school years, particularly among students in the rural parts of the territory:

2015-16

  • Rural Yukon: 25
  • Urban Yukon: 17
  • Yukon: 19 

2017-18

  • Rural Yukon: 32
  • Urban Yukon: 18
  • Yukon: 21

King said her office notified the territory's department of education about the issue last May, and asked to be updated on what the department would do in response.

"I didn't get a proposal, like, I don't know what they're really doing to attend to this," King said on Friday.

"What I'm looking for is to have it taken a little bit more seriously because [this is] about the kids today that need help and aren't going to school. Bottom line is kids are missing out on school and, therefore, missing out on life."

A Yukon education department spokesperson told CBC News in an email on Friday that someone from the department would be available to comment about the situation on Monday.

During a phone interview Monday morning, Kelli Taylor, assistant deputy minister of policy and partnerships for the department, said she didn't know if King brought her concern to the department in May, nor if the department responded.

Taylor also didn't answer if there are any hotspots for absenteeism (besides rural Yukon), if there are any reasons for the increase of absenteeism, or if the department ever investigated the increase.

She said the department is "pleased" that King is launching her review and will cooperate with it.

"If the recommendations come out of the advocate, we'll do our best, absolutely, to agree to them, but it's really hard to say that without seeing what the outcome is," Taylor said.

She said in the 2018-19 school year, about 37 per cent of students across the territory missed 20 or more days of school, as was the case the year prior.

King's review will include talking with kids, families, and teachers, and visiting schools. There will be public reports throughout. The review should be done by around January 2021.

"I do also think that a lot of the change will happen through the process of the review, so I don't think it's something that we need to rush as long as we're seeing progress," King said.

Parents can be fined if they don't send their kids to school, but that penalty is not often used, she said.

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