EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this article stated Black people with Canadian-born parents make up around five per cent of Canada’s total Black population. That was incorrect — they make up around five per cent of the working-age Black population. The copy below has been updated.
Black people in Canada are just as educated as the rest of the country overall but new census data by Statistics Canada is shedding light on how cultural barriers may be driving differences in education levels between different generations in Black communities.
A closer look at the data on racialized groups released Jan. 18 shows there are significant differences in the education levels among working-aged Black people who have recently entered the country, and those who are third-generation Canadians or more.
The data showed Canada’s Black population was just as likely to have achieved a bachelor’s degree or higher from a university – whether in Canada or abroad. While the national average sits at 32.9 per cent, for Canada’s Black community, it is at 32.4 per cent.
The differences in achievements between generations, though, show there is more work to do in addressing the challenges and barriers making access to education unequal in Canada, experts say.
For Black African-born people in Canada, 42.2 per cent have secured a bachelor’s degree or higher while 46.3 per cent of children who had at least one parent born in Africa achieved the same level of education.
Nineteen per cent of Caribbean-born Black people in Canada have a bachelor’s degree or higher while 28.5 per cent of children with at least one Caribbean-born parent reached this threshold.
For Black people with Canadian-born parents, only 15.8 per cent achieved a bachelor’s degree or more, and more than half of that group does not have any postsecondary credentials, the study showed.
Statistics Canada says Black people with Canadian-born parents make up around five per cent of Canada’s working-age Black population.
Analysts anticipate the education levels in this group will increase as the children of African and Caribbean immigrants have their own kids.
The Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora at York University’s Faculty of Education noted the cultural barriers preventing some Black students from attending university.
While financial issues are present, he also said familial support for education, as well as teacher encouragement, makes a difference for students during their K-to-12 education.
“If you have these ideas about the students you’re teaching, that will influence how you think and how you work with the students,” Carl James said, pointing at teacher bias and how that could impact their commitment to students who they think don’t have a shot of attending university.
Chris Thompson, executive director of the Federation of Black Canadians, says the organization conducted research that showed children were 13 per cent more likely to graduate from high school if they had a teacher of the same race. Increasing the number of Black teachers in Canadian schools could go a long way in supporting Black students, he said, adding that increasing the number of Black principals and educational administrators would play a big factor too.
He said mentorship is what ultimately made the difference in allowing him to attend the University of Toronto and the federation is looking to offer that support to Black youth.
Thompson noted for Black students who are third-generation or later, having academic mentors from their social network is unlikely, meaning they could fall into what they’ve seen around them which includes not attending university and working in blue-collar professions.
“The reality of it is when you’re going out into the community, you’re not seeing that you’re not exposed to those people. So, it might stunt the message from the reality of where they drift,” Thompson added.
Black workers most likely to be overqualified
Job prospects also look different for Black workers, with many more Black workers in Canada overqualified for their jobs, the data suggests.
The national overqualification rate is 11.1 per cent, but for Black people, it was found to be 16 per cent.
Statistics Canada defines overqualification as people with a bachelor’s degree or higher from a Canadian institution but who are working in jobs that require a high school diploma or less.
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It also found that the number of overqualified Black people was similar across generations.
For immigrants, the rate was 15.8 per cent.
For children of immigrants, the rate was 16.6 per cent.
For Black people with Canadian-born parents, the rate was 15.7 per cent.
“Even when you put in all of the different controls and factors that tend to contribute to differences in jobs and in wages, it does not fully explain these kinds of disparities,” Statistics Canada analyst Katherine Wall told Global News.
The CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals offers training and courses to Black youth looking for career development and financial security. Its executive director noted the report shows discriminatory barriers are visible and despite being qualified, a larger number of Black graduates are failing to secure jobs in their respective fields.
“There’s also this facade and this carrot dangled that says, ‘We’re inclusive. We want to do better, and everyone is able to kind of meet their dreams here,'” said Agapi Gessesse. “That’s just systemically not true.”
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Gessesse noted the organization looks to fill the gaps in the Canadian labour market, focusing on the tech, trades, film, social services and hospitality sectors as those are strategic for working-age Black people to find a job.
Both Gessesse and James added a societal shift is needed in order to address the disparity for the Black population.
“What message are we giving to the students? How might young people read that as possible to their detriment?” James said.
Statistics Canada said it’s releasing a subsequent data set taking a closer look at the Black population in the coming months. It will include data that will analyze education and earnings among the sub-groups within Canada’s Black diaspora.
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