Sask. Indigenous graduation rates still lagging as overall rate hits 20-year high

The Ministry of Education says more students are graduating from high school in Saskatchewan but the rate for Indigenous students remains more than 20 percentage points lower than the province's long-term goal.

Indigenous graduation rates 30 percentage points below overall rate

Overall graduation rates in Saskatchewan are the highest they have been in 20 years, according to the Ministry of Education. (CBC)

The Ministry of Education says more students are graduating from high school in Saskatchewan but the rate for Indigenous students remains more than 20 percentage points lower than the province's long-term goal.

Education Minister Bronwyn Eyre announced Friday the overall graduation rate had increased about one percentage point to 76.5 per cent over the previous year, making it the highest it has been in 20 years.

The graduation rate for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students also increased to 43.2 per cent in 2016-17, from 41.9 per cent in 2015-16.

The province wants to grow graduation rates for Indigenous students to at least 65 per cent by 2020.

Eyre said Friday she is optimistic the province can reach its goal.

"The only way is up, and it takes a while for the cohorts to work their way through the system," she said.

"That's the way the methodology is compiled and so it takes at least three years in some cases to see the results."

More work to be done

Jeff Baker, the chair of Indigenous education at the University of Saskatchewan College of Education, said he was happy to see the Indigenous graduation rates had increased "modestly."

He said the provincial approach to Indigenous education had taken a big step forward in the past 10 years by introducing Indigenous outcomes and indicators to the curriculum.   

But he said a lot more work needs to be done. 

"Unfortunately, to this point, I don't think we've done a good enough job supporting our teachers in being able to do that work and help Indigenous and non-Indigenous students connect with that kind of knowledge with Indigenous people and history," he said.

Grad rates influenced by social issues

Baker added that graduation rates are influenced by other factors outside the education system, such as social issues affecting Indigenous families. 

"A lot of our families are still struggling ... even just nutrition, our social welfare system, our justice system are contributing to what we're seeing in our schools," said Baker.

"All of the recent budget cuts and things as well ... schools are being asked to do more and more with less and less so oftentimes Indigenous people, First Nations or Métis people are seen as sort of a special interest case or special interest group."

He said that attitude needs to shift so people understand the importance of Indigenous education, saying all Canadian residents will benefit from better Indigenous graduation rates.

Bakers added that graduation rates are not the only measure of success. 

"For me, it's important we're not just getting First Nations, Métis students through school, but they go through school with opportunities to understand who they are, their history, to connect with their ancestors who lived here for a really long time," said Baker.

"I'm not sure that's necessarily reflected in the graduation rates."

With files from CBC's Bridget Yard