Participation in extracurricular activities and high school completion among off-reserve First Nations people

by Paula Arriagada

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Overview of the study

This study reports on predictors of high school completion by age 18 among First Nations males and females aged 18 to 24 living off reserve, with a particular focus on extracurricular activities (participation in sports, arts and clubs). The results are based on data from the 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey (APS).

  • In 2012, 59% of First Nations people aged 18 to 24 living off reserve had completed high school by age 18. The remaining respondents completed high school at a later age (12%) or left school before finishing (29%).
  • In their last year of school, 46% of off-reserve First Nations youth participated in sport activities on a weekly basis, 25% participated in arts, and 19% participated in groups or clubs.
  • First Nations males were more likely than females to participate in weekly sports activities (54% versus 40%) and less likely to participate in groups or clubs (14% versus 24%). About one-quarter of First Nations males and females reported weekly participation in arts.
  • Among First Nations males, participation in sport and art activities was positively correlated with high school completion by age 18—even after accounting for other factors such as academic, family, school and peer characteristics.
  • Among First Nations females, participation in groups or club activities was positively correlated with high school completion by age 18—even after accounting for other factors such as academic, family, school and peer characteristics.

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Introduction

Every year, many students leave high school without earning a diploma. Generally speaking, these persons face greater challenges in today’s economy since completing high school is often considered the minimal educational requirement needed to access the labour market. Workers who do not have a high school diploma have greater difficulty in obtaining well-paying jobs and are more vulnerable to economic downturns.Note 1 Furthermore, the long-term benefits of a high school diploma, such as higher earnings and additional years of employment, are well-known.Note 2

The importance and benefits of finishing high school are also evident for the Aboriginal population. In 2012, for example, off-reserve First Nations high school completers were more likely to be employed (72%) than those who did not finish high school (47%).Note 3 However, the reality is that although the educational attainment of Aboriginal people continues to increase, many First Nations people, Métis and Inuit still do not complete high school. In 2011, 29% of Aboriginal people aged 25 to 64 had neither a high school diploma nor a postsecondary certificate, diploma or degree compared with 12% in the same age group for the non-Aboriginal population.Note 4

Additionally, data from the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) show that the Aboriginal population is young and growing. In 2011, 28% of Aboriginal people were younger than age 15 compared with 17% of the non-Aboriginal population.Note 5 Because of these numbers, it is important to understand the factors that affect the educational experiences of these young people.

Existing research has shown that a number of factors, such as grades, skipping classes, parental education and parental involvement in school are associated with completing high school among the Aboriginal population.Note 6 These results are consistent with literature based on the overall population.Note 7

This paper focuses on one particular factor of high school completion: students’ participation in extracurricular sports and non-sports activities. Participating in extracurricular activities can have many benefits for children and youth, including positive academic achievement, improved psychological functioning and self�esteem, and good peer relationships.Note 8 Students who participate in extracurricular activities tend to be more comfortable in school, create stronger social ties to the school, and are more likely to remain enrolled in school.Note 9

Involvement in extracurricular activities may be particularly critical for students who are at risk for school failure or for students who have less access to resources.Note 10 More generally, participation in extracurricular school activities can be seen as an additional strategy for schools to help students form attachments and prevent dropping out.Note 11

This study concentrates on predictors of high school completion for off-reserve First Nations students,Note 12 with a particular focus on their participation in extracurricular activities during their last year of school. While the correlation between extracurricular participation and academic success has been well-established, less is known about this link for Aboriginal students.Note 13

Specifically, this paper answers the question about how these activities are related to completing high school by age 18 when other factors are included. The other factors taken into account in the article include academic achievement; school engagement; family characteristics such as parental education, parental involvement, and family history of residential school attendance; educational aspirations and behaviours of peers; and school environment.

Data for this study come from the 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey (APS), a national survey of First Nations people living off reserve, Métis, and Inuit aged 6 and over. The outcome of interest is high school completion by age 18 among First Nations youth aged 18 to 24. This age was chosen as a measure of timely completion since, with the exception of Quebec, the typical student graduates from high school by this age.Note 14 In this study, the average age at which off-reserve First Nations people graduated from high school was 17.8 years.Note 15

All explanatory variables for the analyses are measured for the last year of school. Results will be presented separately for males and females due to large differences in their educational trajectories as well as important variations in many of the explanatory measures.Note 16

High school completion by age 18 and extracurricular activity participation of First Nations youth

In 2012, 6 in 10 (59%) off-reserve First Nations people aged 18 to 24 had completed high school by age 18. The remaining respondents either completed high school at a later age (12%) or left school before finishing (29%).Note 17

Existing research has found that males are more likely than females to drop out.Note 18 Nevertheless, the results of this study show no differences in timely completion between males and females in the case of off-reserve First Nations students.

For the purposes of this particular study, extracurricular activity participation is separated into three different categories: sports; arts, drama or music; and clubs or groups. These activities include those organized by the school, those outside school, or both (see Data sources, methods and definitions). More specifically, this study focuses on the frequency of participation in each of these activities, comparing those who reported weekly participation (once per week or more) to those who reported less-than-weekly participation (never or less than once per week).

In terms of participation in extracurricular activities, under one�half (46%) of off-reserve First Nations youth aged 18 to 24 participated in sport activities once per week or more in their last year of school, while one-quarter participated in art, drama or music activities at least weekly. One-fifth (19%) took part in groups or clubs (Chart 1).Note 19

Chart 1 Off-reserve First Nations people aged 18 to 24 who reported weekly participation in extracurricular activities by gender, 2012

Description for chart 1

Off-reserve First Nations males aged 18 to 24 had significantly higher participation rates in sport activities than females (54% compared with 40%). In contrast, males had significantly lower levels of participation in clubs and groups (14% compared with 24%). This is consistent with existing literature, which suggests that participation in extracurricular activities often varies by gender.Note 20 The rates of participation in art, drama and music activities were similar between males and females (24% and 26%).

Factors associated with high school completion by age 18

Extracurricular activities

Participation in extracurricular activities in the last year of school was positively correlated with completing high school by age 18 (Chart 2). For instance, 70% of off�reserve First Nations females who participated in sport activities at least once per week had completed high school by age 18, compared with 52% of those who reported less-than-weekly participation.

Chart 2 Timely high school completion by weekly extracurricular activity participation and gender, 2012

Description for chart 2

The majority (86%) of First Nations females who participated in clubs or groups at least weekly completed high school by age 18, compared with one-half of those who participated less often. Participation in art, dance or music extracurricular activities on a weekly basis was not significantly associated with timely high school completion among females.

Among First Nations males aged 18 to 24 who were living off reserve, weekly participation in all three types of extracurricular activities was significantly associated with higher likelihood of high school completion by age 18. More than two-thirds (68%) of First Nations males who participated in sports on a weekly basis completed high school compared with less than one-half (48%) of those who participated less often. The rate of timely high school completion for those who participated in arts was 72%, and 80% for those who reported participation in club activities.

This association between extracurricular activities and timely high school completion, while consistent with previous research findings, could be mirroring the characteristics and environments of those who participate. For example, students who are more likely to participate in extracurricular activities may have higher grades and may be less likely to skip classes, two factors that are strongly correlated with high school completion (see Table A.1 for a complete list of all bivariate relationships between explanatory variables and high school completion by age 18).

In order to test whether the conclusions pertaining to participation in extracurricular activities are the same when additional factors that influence high school completion are taken into account simultaneously, a multivariate analysis was conducted, and results are presented as predicted probabilities. A probability of 1 should be interpreted as a 100% chance of completing high school by age 18, while a probability of 0 indicates a 0% chance.

Results from these models support the notion that participation in extracurricular activities, and especially in certain types of activities, is associated with a higher likelihood of timely high school completion. More specifically, off-reserve First Nations females who participated in club or group extracurricular activities at least once per week had a higher predicted probability, at 77%, of completing high school by age 18 versus 58% for those who participated less than weekly even after controlling for academic achievement and school engagement, family and peer characteristics, and school environment (Table 1).

However, in terms of participation in sport activities for females, there was no significant difference in the probability of completing high school by age 18, unlike the effect seen at the bivariate level. This suggests that the positive relationship between participation in sport activities and high school completion among off-reserve First Nations females was the result of other factors related to student achievement, the family and peers.

Table 1
Predicted probability of completing high school by age 18, off-reserve First Nations people aged 18 to 24, 2012
Table summary
This table displays the results of Predicted probability of completing high school by age 18 Females and Males, calculated using predicted probabilities units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Females Males
predicted probabilities
Extracurricular activitiesNote 1  
Participation in sport activities  
Less-than-weekly participation (ref.) 0.632 0.550
Weekly participation 0.634 0.681Note *
Participation in art activities  
Less-than-weekly participation (ref.) 0.638 0.578
Weekly participation 0.619 0.743Note *
Participation in club activities  
Less-than-weekly participation (ref.) 0.584 0.610
Weekly participation 0.768Note * 0.689
Academic achievement and school engagementNote 1  
Overall grade average  
A or B 0.713Note * 0.689Note *
C or below (ref.) 0.402 0.506
Don’t know 0.336 0.400
School absenteeism  
Did not skip classes or arrived late often (ref.) 0.642 0.643
Often skipped classes or arrived late 0.556 0.498
Worked at a job  
Did not work (ref.) 0.468 0.564
One to three times per week 0.714Note * 0.683
Four or more times per week 0.733Note * 0.666
Family characteristics  
Lived with at least one family member full timeNote 1  
No (ref.) 0.379 0.463
Yes 0.690Note * 0.644
Siblings who dropped out  
No (ref.) 0.675 0.703
Yes 0.571 0.451Note *
Mother’s education  
Less than high school (ref.) 0.510 0.437
High school diploma or more 0.693Note * 0.679Note *
Don’t know 0.269 0.393
Parental involvement in schoolNote 1  
No (ref.) 0.623 0.567
Yes 0.636 0.642
Residential school family history  
No (ref.) 0.758 0.691
Yes 0.567Note * 0.539Note *
Not stated 0.626 0.711
Peer and school characteristicsNote 1  
Peer aspirations and risk behaviours  
High aspirations/low risk (ref.) 0.695 0.795
Low aspirations/low risk 0.546 0.581
Low aspirations/high risk 0.602 0.460Note *
High aspirations/high risk 0.608 0.632Note *
Positive school environment  
Low (ref.) 0.484 0.575
Medium 0.622 0.580
High 0.790Note * 0.680
Weighted sample size 27,877 23,993

The results for males reveal a slightly different picture. In this case, even after controlling for other variables, the results indicate that participation in extracurricular sports as well as arts, drama or music remain significant predictors of high school completion.

Thus, off-reserve First Nations males aged 18 to 24 who participated in sports at least once per week had a higher probability of completing high school by age 18 than those who did not participate or participated less than once per week (68% versus 55%). At the same time, males who participated in extracurricular arts, drama or music activities at least weekly had a higher probability of completing high school by age 18 (74% versus 58%). Participation in club or group activities was not associated with a higher probability of high school completion for First Nations males, once all other factors were considered.

In the multivariate model, variables for student, family, peer and school environment characteristics are included to account for other factors (other than extracurricular activities) that may influence the probability of completing high school by age 18. These variables and their effects are described in detail below.

Academic achievement and school engagement

One of the most commonly studied predictors of high school completion is academic achievement, including overall grades.Note 21 In addition, research on the Aboriginal population has found that females and males who completed high school were especially likely to report mainly As and Bs.Note 22

The results from this analysis show that overall grades in last year of school are significantly associated with completing high school by age 18. Among off-reserve First Nations females who reported having As and Bs, the probability of completing high school was 71% compared with 40% for those who reported Cs or lower grades. Similar results hold for First Nations males—the probability of completing high school was 69% for those with As and Bs compared with 51% for those who reported Cs or lower grades (Table 1).

An important indicator shown to be related to dropping out among both non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal populations is school absenteeism.Note 23 Behaviours such as skipping classes or arriving late to school often indicate a student who is not engaged in school. However, after controlling for all factors, the lower probability associated with absenteeism is not significant—likely because absenteeism also tends to be related to factors such as academic achievement.

Another student activity that has been linked to academic performance, including dropping out, is working at a job while in school.Note 24 The results of this study show that for off-reserve First Nations females aged 18 to 24, working was positively associated with completing high school by age 18.

Specifically, the probability of completing high school was 71% for females who worked one to three times per week and 73% for those who worked four of more times per week, compared with 47% for females who did not work while in school. Among males, however, working while in school did not have a significant effect on high school completion by age 18.

Family characteristics

Many of the individual student factors that may affect school outcomes are often shaped by the environments in which students spend their time. Family and family relationships are important factors that can influence students and how well they do in school, including whether they graduate from high school.

Living arrangements, for example, have been found to be an influential factor for high school completion for the Canadian population. In the case of First Nations people, living with at least one family member on a full-time basis has been found to be associated with completing high school.Note 25

Specifically, the probability of completing high school by age 18 was 69% for females who lived with at least one family member on a full-time basis during their last year of school, compared with 38% for those who did not live with a family member full time. Unlike the effect observed for females, this variable was no longer significant for First Nations males once other variables were considered (Table 1).

Students with siblings who have dropped out are also more likely to leave school without a diploma.Note 26 While the negative effect of having a sibling drop out of high school was not significant in the case of First Nations females, the probability of completing high school by age 18 was significantly lower in the case of First Nations males who were in the same situation (45% versus 70% for those who did not have siblings who left school before finishing).

The level of education of parents has been shown to be highly correlated to that of their children. Parental education can influence a child’s development, motivation and educational aspirations, often resulting in higher rates of high school completion and postsecondary school attendance.Note 27 For both off-reserve First Nations females and males, the results show that having a mother with at least a high school diploma matters.Note 28 Off-reserve First Nations females whose mothers had a high school diploma or more had a 69% probability of completing high school compared with 51% for those whose mothers had less than a high school diploma after controlling for other factors. The probability of timely high school completion is also significantly higher for males whose mothers had at least a high school education (68% versus 44%).Note 29

Another important factor is parental involvement and its association with high school completion. Parental involvement is important since it conveys to children and youth that parents are interested in their development and well-being, and this involvement can be particularly important in economically disadvantaged homes.Note 30 Existing research has shown that high school completers are consistently more likely than those who did not finish to report greater family involvement at school.Note 31 In this study, however, the results did not indicate a significant association between parental involvement and high school completion by age 18 once all other variables were taken into account.

An additional potential familial factor for First Nations students that may impact long-term educational achievement is whether there is a history of residential school attendance in the family. Residential schools, which were often run by churches in partnership with the federal government, existed in Canada from 1830 until the 1990s.Note 32 During this time, it is estimated that around 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were removed from their families and often taken far from their communities to attend these schools.Note 33 The residential school system may not only have impacted those who were forced to attend, but may also have had an effect on many generations of First Nations people and their children.Note 34 Existing research has found this factor to be statistically related to how well Aboriginal children do in school. For example, among off-reserve First Nations children, having parents who attended residential schools was associated with lower success in school.Note 35

The results of this analysis show that a family history of residential school attendance lowers the probability of completing high school by age 18 for First Nations females. The probability of completing high school was 57% for females who have a family member that ever attended a residential school, compared with 76% for those without such a history. Similar results hold for off-reserve First Nations males—the probability of completing high school by age 18 was 69% for those with no residential school family history compared with 54% for those with a history of family attendance.

Peer and school characteristics

In addition to family, friends may also exert a powerful influence on students. For example, having friends who skip classes, have a reputation for trouble or who have dropped out has been shown to increase the likelihood that an individual will not graduate from high school. Conversely, having friends with high educational aspirations is associated with completing high school.Note 36

Off-reserve First Nations males whose friends had low educational aspirations and engaged in high-risk behaviours had a lower probability of completing high school by age 18 than the reference category (46% versus 80%). Among females, however, peer characteristics did not have a significant effect once other variables were considered.

Finally, research has shown that the school environment also matters for students. Specifically, a perceived positive school environment has been shown to be associated with completing high school.Note 37 This finding holds for females. The probability of completing high school by age 18 was 79% for off-reserve First Nations females who reported a high positive school environment compared with 48% for those reported a low positive school environment. However, the association between a positive school environment and timely high school completion was not significant in the case of First Nations males.

Conclusion

Over the last few decades, the educational attainment of Aboriginal students has improved; however, a number of them still do not complete high school. Because not having a high school diploma often has consequences on a number of social and economic outcomes, examining the factors associated with high school completion is important for individuals and society in general.

Research has shown that many factors can affect high school completion such as overall grades, school absenteeism, parental education and peer relationships. For some, however, other factors can also affect whether they complete high school. This study focused on extracurricular activity participation among off-reserve First Nations people aged 18 to 24, specifically whether involvement in sports, arts and clubs both in and out of school has an effect on timely high school completion.

For young First Nations females living off reserve, weekly participation in club activities increased the likelihood of finishing high school by age 18. For males, the participation in sports and art activities increased the probability of doing so by age 18.

These results remain significant even with the multivariate analyses used to control for other variables that are often associated with high school completion—namely academic factors such as grades and school engagement variables; family characteristics such as the influence of parents and siblings, and residential school family history; and peer and school characteristics such as peer aspirations and school environment. These findings suggest that participation in extracurricular activities may encourage school attachment and prevent students from leaving without a diploma. However, it is also possible that other unobserved factors such as students’ motivation and aspirations may be related to participation in extracurricular activities, which may, in turn, help explain the positive relationship between these activities and high school completion.

Paula Arriagada is a research analyst in the Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division at Statistics Canada.

Notes

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