15th Annual Tribute Gala Champions of Public Education
The Learning Partnership, Metro Convention Centre, May 8, 2013
-Aditya Jha, C.M., LL.D. (Hon.)
I am honoured in joining the august company of individuals like Mr. Rick Waugh and Mr. John Stackhouse as well as the company of illustrious past recipients of this recognition.
Hon. Liz Sandals, Hon. Michael Coteau, Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy, Grand Chief Harvey Yesno, Mr. George Zegarac, Ms. Akela Peoples, distinguished guests and friends; I am deeply humbled and it is my distinct privilege and honour to be here with all of you.
The changing and hugely diverse demographics of Canada could be either recipe of success or disaster depending upon- if we leverage it for growth, then it will minimize our divides and avoid the problems associated with sectarian demands and benefits. However, if we are unsuccessful, then our demographics will become a ticking time bomb.
Our workforce is aging and birth rate reduction is compounding the problem of our future well-being. About 60% of the Canadian workforce don’t have pension plan and 40% of our current workforce will reach retirement age over the next two decades and Canada will become 7th older country from present 13th older country in the world.
From 2001 to 2026, more than 600,000 aboriginal youth will enter the labour market. Aboriginal population growth is 350% more than the rest of Canada. Over the same period, the rural and remote regions of Canada- where the 50% of the Aboriginal population lives- will see over $150 Billion dollar in natural resources projects. The big question to ask is: will we see the demographic dividend through this opportunity owing to aboriginal population of Canada? Is our country aligning its priorities and actions to benefit from this large young aboriginal population in resource rich remote areas or will it be giving birth to many Caledonia like situation and become the source of major social tensions?
There is a crisis in the publically funded education of aboriginal students and the Canadian public policies at the provincial and federal level is “widening the void” rather than “closing the gap”. Canada will be celebrating its 150 years next year and our nation needs to debate- what is our national aspiration for high-school education, especially for the aboriginal children? Generations of neglect and ill-conceived public education policy directed at aboriginal people have systematically tarnished the “Honour of the Crown” and by extension, “the Honour of all Canadians”.
Although contemporary Canadians are not responsible for the past abuses perpetrated in the name of the crown towards the aboriginal people; we are now responsible for how we choose to change these ugly realities. This problem of neglect may be compounded since the New Canadians have hardly any knowledge, sensitivity, and sense of any guilt for the plight of the aboriginal people. New Canadians’ experience and belief that we looked after ourselves and so should everyone else. This would be a myopic view and imagine the impact of this when Canada is inching towards becoming a majority country consisting of minority people.
More than 12% of aboriginal people in Canada between 15 to 29 years of age dropout of school after only grade 8. Nearly half of the aboriginal population in this country (between 18 to 24 years of age) doesn’t have a secondary school education. Aboriginal student achievement is affected by myriad of influences and public school teachers are generally unaware of these complexities and in most instances are unprepared to address the uniqueness of aboriginal epistemologies in their pedagogical practice.
We must make a serious investment in the re-education of in-service teachers and pre-service teacher candidate, use of technology enabled delivery of education and after school @home tutoring (using eTutors from around the world) especially due to the geographically dispersed and miniscule size of aboriginal communities. What is also needed is to instil a deep sense of pride for higher education and pursuit of excellence campaign all across the aboriginal communities.
The publically funded education of aboriginal children is a social and spiritual abyss that will need to be bridged if journey of Canadian prosperity, harmony and social calm is to continue. I am highly optimistic that the leadership of Akela Peoples and through The Learning Partnership, that bridge will also bring the philanthropists and businesses to the aid of this cause. The significantly high-growth rate of the working age aboriginal population could be a blessing or a curse. How educated and well prepared aboriginal youth are, will be the key determinant. Our First Peoples intellectual preparedness is a must to build a JUST and a vibrant Canadian society.
God bless Canada and God bless us all.