Mr. Speaker, I feel very privileged to stand today and talk about something near and dear to my heart, which is education. I had the opportunity, as a younger person, of spending 35 years in education, all the way from being a chemistry and algebra teacher to working in the department of education for the Province of Saskatchewan as director of provincial exams and student records. Also, I had the opportunity to serve a number of school divisions as their director of education. Therefore, I look upon this bill as a very worthwhile piece of literature, a document that says it is time to put some sort of structure around a program of education for aboriginal youth on and off reserves.
Let me just make a couple of general statements to start with. Aboriginal students have two choices really: going to school on a reserve or going to school in a town, a village, or a city. Most students who are not of aboriginal descent do not attend aboriginal schools. In the school structure there is a designed course of studies known as a curriculum. If one is going to be a student in a school in a town—for example, Whitewood—then one would follow the prescribed curriculum of K-12 there. Whitewood is a community in Saskatchewan, and Saskatchewan has a provincial K-12 curriculum. That is not a rare or isolated thing. That is the norm. When we look at schools in Saskatchewan and coast to coast to coast, we will find a provincial curriculum in place.
The bill we are looking at this afternoon says that aboriginal students, their parents, and their boards of education would have a right to choose a school in their community and follow a provincial curriculum, or follow a curriculum as designed and implemented by the first nations folks. That is quite different from a student going to school in a provincial elementary or high school. Parents do not design that curriculum. Curriculum writers design the curriculum. It is approved by the department of education, and that is the one that is followed. This difference alone would certainly assist aboriginal students in their learning programs, because it would be something near and dear to their hearts and they would be able to feel part of the design and presentation of that curriculum as they study things like mathematics, science, English, social studies, history, et cetera.
Those two big items are very worthwhile noting. The bill lays out the principles that say there are two ways to follow. It is very important for us to understand that, because if we are sincere about presenting a curriculum that would be acceptable to aboriginals and first nation folks, then we have to give them an avenue to implement that curriculum. With Bill C-33 we have put forward an opportunity for them to do just that.
This introduction of legislation comes after years of dialogue and consulting with first nations across the country and with the Assembly of First Nations who identified the need for a better education system for first nations. There was ample consultation across Canada, with various groups meeting to talk about what works for them in their educational programming at the K-12 level. It is interesting to note that British Columbia has a well-developed program. Other provinces are catching up to that. They lead the charge with developing their own curriculum, as well as implementing some curriculum from B.C.
In December 2013, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations set out the following five conditions for a successful first nations educational system.
The first is first nation control of education, so nation by nation control of their own education, which is a quantum leap of faith compared to one universal control of education called the curriculum. The second is guaranteed federal funding, which may not be as generous as it could be. In the regulations, as the parliamentary secretary said earlier today, we would find some dictation around the idea of funding.
The third is protection of language and culture. Many schools and educational opportunities extend the school day for specific instruction. For example, the folks in the Hutterite colonies speak German, and the German is taught outside of the regular school time, which in Saskatchewan is from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. That is an option that aboriginal schools may look at, an extension of the school day, again, with their approval. The fourth is joint oversight of the new education system. Point five is meaningful consultation with first nations.
These are the things that happened that preceded the actual design and writing of the bill.
Carrying on with that, greater first nations oversight over education systems on reserve--this is the objective of the curriculum design; providing stable, predictable and sustainable funding; reinforcing first nations' ability to incorporate language and culture programming in the educational curriculum; and creating a joint council of educational professionals who would have a robust oversight and would serve as the mechanism for engaging with first nations on the development of regulations.
Here is a further example of the desire of the curriculum writers to bring in the first nations folk to address these issues, such as what should be the language and culture programming for the curriculum. This is consultation. This is what would happen throughout the implementation of the bill.
Let me speak for a minute or two on what we see happening with the bill. The bill would recognize first nations control of first nations education and create a joint council of education professionals to provide advice and support to Canada and to first nations on the implementation of the act.
Bill C-33 would put control of education on reserve squarely in the hands of first nations, specifically: first nations choose their governance options, which is their first choice, that they choose which way they want the governance; first nations develop their own curricula, which could include the incorporation of language and culture, if they choose, which is far from dictatorial when we see words like choose and choice and the assembly to design the curricula; first nations choose their own inspectors, control the hiring and firing of teachers, and determine how their students will be assessed, in other words, what kind of evaluation would be used; and first nations determine how the school calendar would be structured to meet a set number of days. There again, it is a committee meeting to decide how many days the school would run throughout the course of the calendar year.
The act would recognize the importance of language and culture as an essential element of first nation education and enable first nations to incorporate language and culture programming into the education curriculum, including the option of immersion in a first nation language. This is hardly dictatorial. This is very consultative.
It would establish a legislative framework that would set out minimum standards. For example, the proposed legislation would require that first nations schools teach a core curriculum that meets or exceeds provincial standards, that students meet minimum attendance requirements, that teachers are properly certified, and that first nations schools award recognized diplomas or certificates. That could be said for any school division across Canada from coast to coast to coast. There is nothing outlandish about that at all.
To conclude, Bill C-33 offers a transformative reform so that first nation youth can reach their full potential and become full participants in the Canadian economy. I strongly urge my hon. colleagues to support this important legislation for the economic and mental growth of young people on and off reserves.