- The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) co-developed a series of improvements to the government’s School Space Accommodation Standards (SSAS), a document that regulates education infrastructure and space in First Nations communities.
- In practice, these new standards will significantly improve the quality and size of First Nations schools with spaces that meet the unique needs of students and families and are designed by First Nations.
- Notable changes include base school increases to ensure First Nations students have more space than the national average, dedicated space for language and cultural learning, outdoor classrooms, Knowledge Keeper rooms, and itinerant services such as counselling or special education support.
- The SSAS is now in effect, making First Nations a global leader in Indigenous-led education infrastructure developed specifically for Indigenous student needs.
- Additional capital investments are required for long-term implementation of the SSAS—a priority for the AFN.
The Assembly of First Nations is sharing information about a significant achievement that will improve school spaces on-reserve. Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) announced today updated educational infrastructure standards for First Nations. The new School Space Accommodation Standards (SSAS) were designed by First Nations and for First Nations and will significantly improve the quality and size of First Nations schools. Renovations and new school constructions will reflect the unique learning culture of First Nations; namely, outdoor learning, language and culture space, and support services.
In July 2019, AFN Chiefs-in-Assembly supported Resolution 34/2019, First Nations Education Infrastructure Review, which advocated for policy or program changes to First Nations education infrastructure. The resolution indicated that a comprehensive review would be led by the AFN, the Chiefs Committee on Education (CCOE) and the National Indian Education Council (NIEC). In October 2019, the CCOE recommended this review start with the SSAS to ensure First Nations schools would begin to reflect the needs of First Nations students.
On November 26, 2020, the CCOE provided a technical recommendation on the SSAS outlining specific areas for improvement. In collaboration with ISC, a new set of standards was drafted and reviewed with First Nations education technicians at the decision-making table. On March 25, 2021, the CCOE provided a recommendation to finalize the co-developed SSAS. Changes came into effect on April 1, 2021.
Additional improvements across other facets of education infrastructure are currently in development. Long-term changes will include a review of the current enrollment projections, increasing space for special education students and educators, and reviewing the effectiveness of current school storage standards. The AFN estimates that in the next five years, First Nations will require $3.8 billion in capital needs for new school construction, additions and planning. Advocating for such investments is a priority for the AFN Languages and Learning Sector’s pre-budget submission and associated public awareness campaigns.
Implementation and impact
Previous school standards caused First Nations students on average to have the smallest amount of space per student when compared to the rest of Canada. Furthermore, previous standards concluded that First Nations elementary schools not only have the smallest classrooms in Canada but are also mandated to hold the most students in their classrooms compared to provinces. AFN research states more than 200 First Nations schools—38% overall—are overcrowded and require additions to be built. These new standards will ensure First Nations schools of the future are the largest on average schools in Canada and include the spaces that are prioritized by the First Nations they serve.
First Nations requiring new school construction or renovations should reach out to their ISC regional office and identify this need through their Infrastructure Investment Plan. It is estimated that the Federal Budget 2021 commitments from the Government of Canada will only fund 23% of First Nations school infrastructure investments required to address overcrowding, immediate replacement and necessary additions. Further funding, secured through ongoing advocacy, will broaden access to future building.
Follow the AFN on social media to see First Nations leaders sharing stories of education infrastructure improvements in their communities. Visit www.afn.ca for future updates on how the SSAS is positively impacting First Nations students, teachers, families and beyond.
The AFN will be releasing various advocacy materials that will include research on First Nations education transportation needs, infrastructure operations and maintenance needs, and updated fact sheets as part of pre-Federal Budget 2022 advocacy efforts. The calls for capital investments are detailed further in the AFN – First Nations Education Infrastructure Capital Needs Assessment, 2021.
For more information, please visit www.afn.ca.