Monday, April 17, 2006

The State of Education

One of the things I've been giving a great deal of thought to the education system in Nunavut. This was brought to mind with the recent publication of the Berger Report. This is a report by former justice Thomas Berger on how to fulfill Article 23 of the Nunavut Land Claim. Article 23 states that the Government of Nunavut, as the territory's largest employer, should be representative of the Inuit population and aims to have a workforce which is 85% Inuit. Unfortunately the GN is a long way from this goal. Inuit have never accounted for more than 45% of the GN workforce.

The supply of qualified Inuit is now exhausted and the report recommends massive spending on education in order to deal with this problem. Unfortunately there are no easy answers to this dilemma. Schools are simply not graduating enough young Inuit to fill the gap.

Generally what happens is that students enter the school system as unilingual Inuit (with the exception of Iqaluit where English, inspite of what government likes to tell you, is the working language). Students are taught by Inuk teachers and are generally introduced to the English language anywhere between grade 3,4, or 5 depending on the community. Of course by this time they are not even proficient in Inukititut before taking on a second language which becomes the language of instruction until grade 12. So by grade 5, students already lag behind and are force to play catch up for the rest of the school careers. The result is that by the time they reach high school they are proficient in neither Inuktitut or English. (It seems the GN cannot even foster/promote Inuktitut. I've lost track of the number of times our school has received documents/manuals/posters etc. which are in English only.)

Making matter worse is that Nunavut currently follows the school curriculum from Alberta and is not always very relevant. When you consider that the drop out rate in Nunavut is 3 times the national average - around 76% - and that the birth rate is currently 2 to 3 times the national average, you can see a looming social disaster in the future.

When I taught high school in Qikiqtarjuaq the most graduates saw was six. I recall a newspaper article from 2000 stating that in that year Arctic Bay was holding its first high school graduation in five years - for two students.

All of this is quite unsettling to someone in the field of education. Certainly something needs to be done and done soon. It remains to be seen if the current government will act on the recommendations of the Berger Report and commit to the massive new spending on education - a whopping $20 million. In the meantime, we await a Nunavut education act which is supposed to be tabled sometime this year from what I've heard in the Nunavut Legislature. There are also major changes coming to the curriculum due to be introduced in the 2008-09 school year. Or at least that's what I keep hearing.

Personally I feel the GN may have to reconsider its priority hiring policies in order to fill the many positions it lacks. My own employer, with a $50 million budget, has been without a financial officer since October, 2005. Now that's kind of scary. We can be politically correct all we want but we still must live in the real world. Perhaps this may slow down the numbers of qualified Inuit that get out of education in order to take up government jobs, thereby denuding our schools of a vital Inuit language and cultural component.

I also feel that children should be introduced to both languages starting in kindergarten. Experiences from other jurisdictions around the world have shown that this is a logical and, in the long run, beneficial. This is one of the recommendations of the report, but let's not wait on that. This is something that can and should be done NOW.

A lot of quick fix solutions have been tried over the years while nothing has seemed to work effectively. Usually I see alot of short-sighted suggestions from people I doubt have even spent one day of their lives up here. At any rate, I do by best to remain an optimist otherwise I wouldn't be here. I do take some comfort in that at least the train wreck of a system we have at the moment is FINALLY being given serious thought.

I for one try to do my part in the best way I am able. It is not always easy, however. I don't have the patience to wait around for government to do something. When it comes to government in Nunavut I am reminded of the saying, "The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the current bureaucracy." Perhaps it is time the bureaucracy began to meet the needs of Nunavummiut.