$0 for Libraries
Awareness-building Campaign on First Nations Education
AANDC’s elementary and secondary teaching program, which has the stated objective of offering First Nations learners education programs and services that are comparable with those of the province or territory where they live, currently gives band schools no funding whatsoever for school libraries.
Many people may not know that AANDC imposes strict conditions on First Nations to obtain funding for school management. These include an obligation that First Nations teach the provincial curriculum AND conform to the quality standards set by the province. AANDC, however, does not give band schools the means they need to meet the requirements that it has set for them.
Therefore, not only do band schools receive absolutely no funding from AANDC to buy books, but nor does AANDC give any money for construction, furnishing or maintenance of school libraries. AANDC refuses to fund book renewal costs, librarians’ salaries or other expenses including catalogue management software or management of loans.
Band Councils must choose between vital services
For most band schools, if not all of them, having no funds for school libraries means that they really cannot work at all. It would be difficult enough in any school, both for the teachers and the students, to work without books. Remember that we are talking about students who study in French or English, which are not first languages for most of them. This means that they, more than most, really do need to read so that they can be comfortable in these second languages. Band councils do their best to find solutions, which means making agonizing choices and cutting elsewhere in other vital services. Obviously these improvised solutions will not make it possible to match the current norms of a real school library, which has to provide students not only with a varied and up-to-date collection of works, but also a space where they can read in comfort as well as a multimedia section, where they can watch films or consult Internet.
This means that through its non-funding of school libraries, AANDC endangers all other services offered, because on the one hand it is fully aware of how essential this service is and on the other hand it deliberately forces band councils to make cuts in other services to deal with AANDC’s failure to meet its responsibilities.
Current MELS standards regarding school libraries, which AANDC has imposed on First Nations schools, are perfectly clear, however. School libraries are one of the ten complementary services that are essential for the system to fulfill its mandate. In Quebec and elsewhere, everyone knows that an excellent reading ability is a vital ingredient in academic success. For example, the MELS has set up an action plan for reading in schools worth $60M over three years to improve the collections of Quebec’s school libraries. Each library will see the number of volumes in its collections increase by 60% over this period, in other words a school with 300 students will be able to buy an additional 1,500 volumes.
All this time, however, First Nations youth are still waiting…