While Indigenous youth are one of the fastest-growing populations in Canada, their participation rates in the digital and STEM-based economy are below the national average.
Barriers to Indigenous and Northern engagement in the workforce include low high school completion rates and lack of opportunities to participate in STEM programs where Indigenous culture and knowledge is recognized as the foundation for skills development.
The Future Skills Centre will invest $2.3M in a two-year project led by Actua, which aims to look at ways to address these barriers through a for-credit high school program to apply a locally and culturally relevant approach to building digital literacy with key foundational, reading, and numeracy skills. The project involves the assessment of two key programs: an in-school component and a summer-based on-the-land component, both rendering high school credits. During the second year of the project, a work placement program will be developed and tested, and selected students completing the land program will be placed in Actua-facilitated internships with industry partners.
75 First Nations youths will take part in the first cohort of this program, including Kwanlin Dün and Ta’an Kwäch’än First Nations youth in Yukon; Gwich’in First Nations and Inuvialuit youth in Northwest Territories; and Frog Lake First Nations youth in Alberta.
Actua works closely with Indigenous community leaders, local school boards, Elders, and industry partners to develop program curriculum to ensure programming reflects local priorities. The Indigenous-led land-based learning model is designed to meet the specific needs and interests of Indigenous youth.
Our evaluation of the For-Credit InSTEM Program is classified as an Effectiveness Evaluation, focused on understanding to what extent the pilot produces intended outcomes, and the individual and implementation factors that support success. The results of this evaluation will be used to move the For-Credit InSTEM model along the Future Skills Centre’s evidence pipeline, by building evidence of the model’s effectiveness to inform future evaluation and scaling decisions. Findings will also be linked to a broader learning agenda to ensure that we can leverage learnings to inform future innovations in the areas of STEM learning and supporting Indigenous youth, and to advance the Future Skills Centre’s mandate of mobilizing evidence to inform practice, programs, and policies.
Since the For-Credit InSTEM Program specifically targets high school students, the evaluation will focus on measuring the program completion, skills gain, and education outcomes outlined in the Future Skills Centre’s Shared Outcomes Framework. Employment outcomes will not be tracked due to the student status of participants and education-focused program model.
To identify the implementation factors associated with success and support continuous improvement of the model, the evaluation will focus on identifying the key success factors in collaboration between Indigenous communities, school boards, post-secondary institutions, and delivery partners to implement the pilot across three communities in Northern Canada.
Finally, to reflect the unique model and context of the For-Credit InSTEM pilot, the evaluation will measure a set of pilot-specific outcomes including changes in interest in STEM education and professions, and reflections on the alignment between Indigenous world views and STEM-related learning. In addition, pilot-specific high school achievement outcomes will be tracked, including completion of STEM credits and high school graduation rates among participants. Since the For-Credit InSTEM 820Program is being delivered in First Nations communities, evaluation data governance will follow principles of OCAP (Ownership, Control, Access, and Possession) to ensure that involved communities retain governance over their data collected during the evaluation.
Over the next two years, we will carry out this evaluation by:
- Conducting surveys, focus groups, and participatory evaluation activities with participating youth as well as STEM instructors, to collect data on their perceptions of the pilot and how participation has impacted them.
- Interviewing community elders and stakeholders, as well as program staff, to gather multiple perspectives on strengths, gaps, and areas of opportunity for the model, as well as reflections on challenges and success factors in stakeholder coordination.
- Engaging with Indigenous communities where the program is being delivered, ensuring that evaluation approaches are aligned with the history, context, and traditions of each community, and that results are co-analyzed with community members.
- Reporting the results of the co-analysis to communicate interim findings on the effectiveness and implementation of the pilot to support ongoing program improvement by delivery partners.
- Delivering a final report outlining the results of the effectiveness evaluation.
Results of the For-Credit InSTEM evaluation are expected to be published Fall 2021.