Elementary and secondary school education, both in Canada and internationally, is replete with programs that have proven successful in providing at-risk students with the skills necessary to improve their academic achievement levels. Although valuable, such programs have not been adapted to suit the needs of Aboriginal Canadians. The Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative's (MAEI) methodology is to establish new educational projects or adopt existing ones that have been proven successful and adapt them to the needs of Aboriginal children and youth.
The goal of MAEI is to improve Aboriginal education at the elementary and secondary school levels and to increase the high school graduation rate of Aboriginal Peoples. MAEI also aims to raise awareness and promote a better understanding of Aboriginal cultures and history in Canada.
This Best Practice includes the MAEI's Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program (AYEP); Accounting Mentorship Program (AMP); Model Schools Project; Promising Practices in Aboriginal Education Website, and the We Stand Together campaign.
MAEI was founded in 2008 by The Right Honourable Paul Martin, former Prime Minister of Canada. Mr. Martin has built multi-sector partnerships to launch a number of programs in support of Aboriginal student achievement in literacy, entrepreneurship, business and finance.
He was inspired by his teenaged friendships with Aboriginal youth who, although they were smart and hardworking, felt lost or caught between two cultures, and experienced a sense of hopelessness and uncertainty regarding their futures. That experience influenced him not only during his time in politics but also after he left public office. Since retiring from politics Mr. Martin has continued to work with First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples.
Issues of equity, inclusion, human rights and race relations are implicit in the goals and aims of MAEI. One particular practice, which has proven crucial to its success, is the inclusion of Aboriginal knowledge and context in its educational approach. For example, it is important that Aboriginal students see themselves reflected in the textbooks and other materials they use in school.
For this reason, after AYEP had been offered for three years and at the request of participating students, MAEI worked with Nelson Education Ltd. to develop teacher resource materials and student textbooks for the Grade 11 and Grade 12 courses. These materials specifically reflect the students for whom the program was designed and are the first of their kind in Canada. The authors were Aboriginal teachers who taught the AYEP programs. Many attribute the success of the program to the high-quality resources that were developed specifically for AYEP.
According to the 2011 Census of Canada, there are more than 1,400,000 Aboriginal Peoples in Canada. They are the youngest and fastest-growing segment of Canada's population, yet when compared to non-Aboriginal Canadians, they consistently have lower education levels and lower standards of living. The high school dropout rate for First Nations students on reserve is 60 per cent, and just 8.7 per cent of First Nations People have a university degree, compared to 26.5 per cent of non-Aboriginal Canadians. They also face significant health and housing challenges.
The roots of these social and educational challenges can be found in the lack of opportunities they are given from a young age. Unfortunately, only half of non-Aboriginal Canadians claim to have any understanding of Aboriginal issues, but by working with Aboriginal educators and leadership across the country, these statistics can be, and are being, changed for the better.
Making a Difference
MAEI's projects and partnerships are recognized across the country for being both unique and successful. MAEI's advice and support are sought by many other organizations as they develop programs to address issues faced by Aboriginal Peoples in the 21stcentury.
Feedback and formal evaluations of programs show that Aboriginal students are learning new skills, developing increased confidence and becoming more motivated to complete high school and go on to post-secondary studies.
The We Stand Together campaign has given teachers and students a heightened awareness of the realities of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada and the Model School Project has resulted in improved student attendance, increased parental engagement and higher literacy skills.
The key challenge was a lack of complete data indicating the number and location of Aboriginal students in provincially funded schools. Since its programs are designed for Aboriginal students, MAEIneeds to work with schools that have a sufficiently large cohort. This was addressed by working with schools that had self-identification policies at the school level and First Nations, Métis and Inuit focused policies at the system level.
Vision for the Future
MAEI continues to expand its program and develop new programs to improve Aboriginal student achievement, both on- and off-reserve.
It intends to work with provincial and territorial governments and school systems to increase the number of schools that offer AYEP and AMP. It hopes to implement the Model Schools Project in additional on-reserve elementary schools and in provincially funded elementary schools with high numbers of Aboriginal students.
About the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative
The Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative seeks to improve elementary and secondary school education outcomes for Aboriginal Canadians through the implementation of specific programs and the application of appropriate research.
Best Practice Contact
Lucie Santoro, Director of Administration, Martin
Aboriginal Education Initiative
759 Victoria Square, Suite 300 Montreal, QC H2Y 2J7