‘Bridging the educational gap’

According a report released last week by economist Eric Howe, improving access to education in Saskatchewan for Aboriginals would reap rewards to the tune of $90 billion. The report entitled “Bridging the Educational Gap in Saskatchewan,” was initiated by the Gabriel Dumont Institute (GDI).

The interest in discovering the financial potential of increased Aboriginal education was largely driven by the success of the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP), which exists at the GDI. “I think the big factor that makes SUNTEP really successful is that it has a very strong cultural component,” commented GDI Director Lisa Wilson. “The students move through as a cohort, which is very important to them to be a part of that group and that learning community.”

Now seeing the grandchildren of SUNTEP graduates make their way through the program, success was easily identified.

“Anecdotally we could tell people … what we thought that value was, but you don’t get policy makers and the people who make the decisions around funding to listen to you if you’re talking in terms of anecdotes,” said Wilson.
Enter Howe, professor of Economics at the University of Saskatchewan, with over three decades of teaching experience and a long-standing interest in Aboriginal issues.

Howe explained, “There’s vast, economic literature about the impact of education on earnings. But much of that literature is stated in terms that, however riveting it is for economists, leaves the rest of the world kind of cold.”
According to Howe, in the foreseeable future, Aboriginals will make up half of Saskatchewan’s population, a demographic reality that demands immediate action.

If Aboriginal people are not moved further into the economic mainstream, Howe stated that “given Saskatchewan’s demographic reality, if we don’t do that, the result will be social turmoil like Saskatchewan hasn’t experienced since the Great Depression.”

He added, “So if we don’t do something to deal with higher rates of unemployment for Aboriginal people, with lower levels of education, we will, to quote the technical economic term, be screwed.”

The report breaks down the $90 billion into three different attributes: $16.2 billion in individual monetary benefit, $48.6 billion for individual non-monetary benefit and a $25.2 billion social benefit for society.

These figures were derived from an application of forensic economics, a technique used to determine how much money a person would have made in their life in the event of wrongful death or injury. This was applied to six different hypothetical people, with levels of education ranging from high school drop-out to a postsecondary degree, and classified according to non-Aboriginal, Métis or North American Indian. On the clear benefits of educational investment, Wilson, who described the numbers as “staggering,” said, “We understand that this kind of education pays for itself very quickly, and you’re accumulating benefit beyond the first couple of years.”

“This is the information age. The more you learn the more you earn,” added Howe. “Your biggest problem is typically your biggest opportunity.” Howe concluded, “What I’ve pointed to is 90 billion dollars which is just lying there. And if we want to pick it up we can.”

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