Black students in N.S. face barriers to PSE

An “alarming” number of black students in special programs, making it difficult to access scholarships

An “alarming number” of Nova Scotia’s 4,000 black students are placed in special programs for students with academic difficulties, according to a report for the provincial government released Thursday. Enid Lee, the report’s lead author and a consultant in anti-racism education, said it’s difficult to know exactly how many teenagers are being incorrectly placed in the programs, known as Individual Program Plans.

Lee said that’s because school boards don’t keep records identifying the race of their students. But she said she based her conclusion after seven focus groups in high schools across the province during which she consistently heard from parents who wondered how to get their teenagers out of the special programs.

“Every focus group we met with . . . there were groups of people in them where parents said, ‘I have a kid in the Individual Program Plan, and I’m not sure if you can get off of it,”‘ she told a news conference.

Lee, who has 40 years of classroom experience, said it’s difficult to get out of the special programs and return to the regular stream where a black student can earn scholarships. “Such plans. . . are regarded by many of those interviewed as barriers to academically rigorous programs as well as to accessing scholarships specifically designated for African Nova Scotian learners,” she wrote in the 107-page report.

Her report recommends the province identify the number of black students in the special programs, and then look at ways to help them get back into the regular stream. It also identifies a general shortage of information on black students—such as how many graduate from school—because school boards say they aren’t able to collect the statistics.

Irving Carvery, the chairman of the Halifax Regional School Board, said his board has attempted to track students based on race. But he said he often found that students didn’t fill out the forms that asked for that information.

“There are a number of reasons why they don’t,” Carvery said. “It’s historical. It’s complex.” The report comes 15 years after the provincial government at the time acknowledged the school system needed to combat racial inequality.

It examined 12 programs that were created by the province after a 1994 report by the Black Learners Advisory Committee, a delegation of community leaders and educators.

That report found that in the early 1990s, few black students were obtaining a university education, citing census data showing 50 per cent of black high school students were dropping out. It also came after widely publicized outbreaks of racial violence at a Halifax high school.

Lee said there’s been progress since then, such as a dedicated division of the Education Department that has developed black literature and history courses. But she also concluded that some black students are still finding programs designed to assist them are “out of reach.”

The report said the program created to provide support workers to black students has been effective, but added that the workers are responsible for too many students. Lee has recommended the school boards hire more support workers who can provide black students with counselling and academic support.

Her report also found a rise in the number of black students obtaining post-secondary scholarships—from 246 in 2004 to 378 students in 2008. But Lee said no data is being kept on how many of the black students graduate from the post-secondary programs.

Despite the lack of statistical information, Education Minister Marilyn More said the report “will give us valuable insight into what is working and where we can improve.” She said she will provide a more formal response in the spring, following public input.

Dennis Cochrane, the assistant deputy minister of education, said his department is going to improve its ability to track the progress of black students with an upgraded computer system that all boards can use within a year and a half. Cochrane estimated that the study by the consultants cost about $100,000, but added that he hasn’t received the final bill.

The Canadian Press