Education and Training

Making Education Work

Research Design

Meeting the Challenge: Making Education Work in Manitoba Schools

Yes, making education work is what all schools strive toward. However, for many Aboriginal high school students in the province of Manitoba, the search continues. Responding to urgency based on current knowledge, research and statistical evidence regarding the low levels of educational attainment and post-secondary participation rates among Aboriginal youth, the Making Education Work project was created to address "closing the gap".

Six Aboriginal communities along with their high schools have joined together with Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth and the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation to create a project that embodies a common goal: To improve the presently low rates of high school completion and post-secondary program uptake and success among Aboriginal students. All partners have come to an agreement on the priorities for and have forged a consensus on the major dimensions of the pilot project.

Five-Year Pilot

Making Education Work is a five-year pilot research project based on the needs of Manitoba Aboriginal high school students. The project takes root in six high schools across the province located in three First Nation schools and three provincial schools.

The overall aim of the project is to provide additional in-school supports and services to assist Aboriginal students in Grades 10-12 to stay in school, meet their graduation requirements and to enter into a post-secondary program. It is designed to test whether a combination of community, family, academic, cultural and career guidance interventions positively affects the rates of participation in post-secondary education.

Community-Based Model

After extensive research literature reviews and a two-stage consultation/validation process with all stakeholders, a community-based integrated in-school program model was designed. The model contains a common framework and common components that integrates multi-component enrichment interventions along with active parent/Elder/community involvement, strong mentorships and extensive tutoring in support of these students.

Making Education Work program elements has been designed to address local issues and to provide a coherent, coordinated set of interventions to strengthen students' performance and ability to make well-informed decisions on post-secondary pathways that best fits with their needs, interests, skills, Aboriginal community context, and labor market needs, both local or provincial. Specifically, these interventions include components such as academic and individual supports, personal career development and guidance, cultural development, community service activities and supports, parental involvement, tutoring and mentorships.

The project aimed to recruit 360 Aboriginal students in total and is designed to follow two cohorts of approximately 180 students beginning in September 2006 at the Grade 10 level through high school completion and potentially to the end of one year of a post-secondary program. Active programming is offered to one cohort chosen randomly while an equally sized and structured comparison cohort, not participating in program interventions, is also tracked for the duration of the project.

Each project site has one full-time MEW teacher working with the program cohort for the full three years of high school. During this period, a MEW classroom is designated to serve as a classroom, study hall and meeting place for all MEW program participants. The MEW teacher teaches one MEW elective course per semester in which all program students must register. Six MEW courses have been developed for the duration of the project with students receiving .5 credit per course totaling 3 full credits upon completion of Grade 12.

Research Design

As a research project, Making Education Work combines both quantitative and qualitative investigative approaches. The primary hypothesis for quantitative measurement is that the combination of program components will make a positive difference in educational outcomes, measured by the rates of high school completion and post secondary program uptake and success, for the program group, relative to the comparison group.

Though the sample isn't that large, having two groups of approximately 180 students in each, it should be sufficient enough to detect any large differential impact that the combined interventions might have on the high school graduation rates and post secondary participation rates for each group. For the task at hand, the project must produce a significant impact if it is to be considered a viable policy direction for supporting high school students in Manitoba schools.

In addition, the project will gather a large amount of quantitative and qualitative data through the baseline and follow-up surveys, the collection of school administrative data, small focus groups with parents and students and so on. The research team is developing indicators that should allow to capture the program's impact in several areas: engagement in education, academic progress, post high school education, career knowledge and aspirations, and measurements of influences on making plans and of the various individual program components.

Recruitment focused on Grade 10 Aboriginal students who showed a desire and potential relative to the objective of high school completion and post-secondary program access. Eligible students in both the comparison and program group were recruited using the same process that involved the MEW teacher, local school staff, the provincial Project Coordinator and the research firm. The project had not recruited students participating in any individualized program that involved a cognitive disability, students with a history of violence or students over the age of eighteen years. Once all students were recruited, they were randomly assigned to one of the two groups.

Using the Findings

The hopes are that this research pilot project will help to better understand how to improve outcomes for Aboriginal learners and strengthen pathways among secondary schools, post-secondary programs and the workforce. Yet, being mindful, the program must be realistic and affordable if the type of programming offered by Making Education Work project is to be extended to all Aboriginal high school students, should it prove to be successful.

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