Rural Education is in Crisis

Students in rural Canada are falling behind their urban counterparts.**

* High-school dropout rates are almost double in rural areas: (16%) as compared to (9.2%).
* Achievement is lower in rural areas: Rural students in Canada perform lower in every area assessed including math, reading, and science (Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
* The rural-urban achievement gap persists across all the provinces.

Canadians should be particularly concerned because,

among OECD countries, Canada has the worst rural-urban gap

with respect to levels of education in the workforce.”

What this looks like on Cortes Island

* Lack of a local High School is one of the top barriers to creating a resilient local economy is keeping families on Cortes.***
* Cortes Island’s median household after-tax income is $34,432 – nearly $30,000 less than the provincial average. Also lower than neighbouring Quadra Island & the Strathcona Regional District median of $55,487.
* Almost a 1/4 of Cortes youth live below the poverty line. (Compared to provincial average of 18%) Financial pressures increase when required to leave home to go to secondary school. 
* Boarding costs at the closest high school–two ferries / 3 hours away–costs $1100 to $1400 a month if a room can be found.
* Youth that leave their homes, communities, and cultures are at a greater risk for isolation, loneliness, and mental health issues in youth.

**“The rural-urban gap in education” by Canada Council on Learning   *** LEEP Report  / Census Data /  



Cortes Island Academy is a Model for Transformative Education

Education is an important determinant of health both for individuals and communities. Unfortunately, in Canada, rural students drop out of high school at almost twice the rate of their urban counterparts and consistently under-perform in all areas of achievement including reading, math, and science. These rural-urban differences persist across all the provinces, according to the Canada Council on Learning, who says that: “Canadians should be particularly concerned because, among OECD countries, Canada has the worst rural-urban gap with respect to levels of education in the workforce.”

Cortes Island and our nearby island communities live the rural education gap. With no secondary-school option at all, students had to choose between leaving their homes and cultures or dropping out of bricks-n-mortar school. In a community where families earn less than the BC average and almost ⅓ of children live in poverty, the cycles of economic and community insecurity are profound.

The problem is also an opportunity. Cortes Island, the ancestral and traditional lands of the Tla’amin, Homalco, and Klahoose First Nations, is a beautiful, wild, and natural “campus”. The island boasts an amazing community that includes the Klahoose First Nation, numerous nonprofit groups, and a disproportionate number of PhDs, naturalists, educators, ecologists, artists, writers, world-class intellectuals, and local knowledge holders. The result is a model of experiential, place-based education that is transforming what’s possible in rural and remote communities and educating the ecologically and equity-aware leaders of tomorrow.

Transformative Education Grows Future Leaders

Climate change, social justice, ecological extinction… today’s students will need to be able to work across disciplines and engage with a wide diversity of people in order to navigate the future and lead creative, inclusive, and positive change. At the Cortes Island Academy, we believe these are skills that can be taught. That’s why we’ve abandoned worksheets and tests for hands-on projects that demonstrate learning, encourage students to learn to work together as a community, and have “classes” where a biology lesson happens in a forest and might include spontaneous student-led presentations, or an English class results in a journalistic podcast with interviews of locals and world-famous thought leaders.



Transformative Education Reaches a Diversity of Students

CIA Impact Report for 2022-2023

Rural/remote students are a diverse bunch often representing a wide range of backgrounds, incomes, cultures, and learning differences. One thing is usually common: they haven’t had the options and opportunities of their urban peers. How did CIA do in attracting a diversity of students to reflect the diversity common in rural/remote communities?

Transformative Education Creates Meaningful Projects

 Check out the Biodiversity Mapping, Podcasts, and Videos that the CIA’s empowered, young change-makers have created.




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