Graduation rates for students in School District 91 – Nechako Lakes (SD91) have risen since 2013, according to data released online by the British Columbia Ministry of Education.
Data for the neighbouring school district of 82 Coast Mountains was also recently published.
The rate has in fact increased by 10 per cent, after the graduation rate in 2013 stood at 63 per cent and rose to 74 per cent last year.
The gap in graduation rates between Aboriginal students and all other students has also narrowed in the last six years. In 2013 the graduation rate among Indigenous students was 49 per cent and has since climbed to 69 per cent.
SD91 superintendent Manu Madhok told Lakes District News that those increases can be attributed to a concerted effort by the school district to focus on success and on closing the gap between Indigenous students and other students.
“I think students and families understand that high school completion is a minimum requirement to succeeding in the new economy.”
Madhok said the district tries to incorporate traditional Aboriginal education into school programming when possible.
“We serve 13 different First Nations. They all belong to the First Nations Education Council. Language comes up quite often from the council. Across our schools elders have come in to show traditional practices. Language is tricky. It’s hard to recruit language teachers. It depends on who is out here. They’re in big demand.”
At the same time, enrollment in district schools has been falling since 2003, when 6,483 students were enrolled. That number has dropped to 4,536 as of last year.
The rate is expected to hover around an average of 4,500 until 2032, a ministry forecast showed.
“We’re seeing a decreasing enrollment in all of our communities as families have fewer children and the number of people in these communities has decreased,” Madhok said. “Small, rural communities are shrinking all across the world.”
Despite the gains for SD91, the graduation rate of 74 per cent for 2018 is lower than the provincial average of 85 per cent, according to ministry data.
As Madhok explained, the Ministry of Education includes all students in its data, including those who finished Grades 8-12 with credits from the online EBUS Academy program, which enrolls at least 4,000 students a year. EBUS is one of dozens of distributed learning centres across the province, and most students in EBUS take only one or two courses.
If a student in another part of the province enrolls in an EBUS course, she or he is considered an SD91 student. But because most students who completed all their high school credits with some EBUS courses tend to take longer than the six-year period, and “even if EBUS is their last school of record the ministry would count them as not finishing.”
“So our average falls because of that,” Madhok said. “The ministry is sort of comparing apples to oranges because it doesn’t take into account the EBUS. The issue isn’t completion, it’s the timeline the province puts on it.”
However, a different picture of academic achievement emerges from SD91’s own research into graduation rates, which doesn’t include EBUS graduates.
Since 2013, Lakes District, Nechako Valley and Fraser Lake Secondary Schools posted graduation rates that have mostly been higher than the provincial average, with some exceptions. LDSS was at 82.7 per cent in 2017/2018.
Fort St. James Secondary School was above the provincial average until 2016/2017 when its graduation rate fell to 66.7 per cent. It rose to to 86.7 per cent in 2017/2018.
The research from SD91 shows the graduation rates for Aboriginal students are also higher than the provincial average, except for at LDSS and Fort St. James, where since 2013 both have gone above below the B.C. average.
About 4,500 students are enrolled in SD91 schools, which are located between Vanderhoof and Burns Lake, and north to Granisle.