Monday, April 23, 2007

Language of Instruction

In the abstract, language of instruction in a school would seem to be pretty straight forward. However, here it is a major issue. The survival of a language depends on it. We had an all-day staff meeting today and another one is on tap for tomorrow. At issue is how to implement a bilingual school model so that by the year 2020 Nunavut will be turning out high school graduates fluent in both English and Inuktitut as outlined in a document known as the Bathurst Mandate.

Simply teaching students 100% in English will not work. There are a few communities where this is the case and their graduation rates are no higher than other Nunavut communities. One model, known as the Qulliq Model, developed in 1985, had students start school with Inuktitut immersion in all subject areas. This instruction then gradually declined as the amount of English instruction rose. By the time student reached high school, Inuktitut was reduced to a single language course while all other subject areas would be offered in English. In theory, this was supposed to solve the language problem. However, this model simply 1) gave the strong impression that English was more important, 2) demonstrated to Inuit students that Inuktitut learning did not require constant improvement and 3) led to a dramatic decrease in high school Inuktitut proficiency.

There are still many details to be worked out. Nunavut's communities have varying degrees of English competency in its schools so a one-size-fits-all solution is not feasible. The general idea for smaller communities is to begin schooling in Inuktitut, gradually increasing the amount of English students receive so that by the time they reach high school, instruction is something along the lines of 50-50.

There are still many uncertainties, not the least of which is funding. Add lack of qualified Inuktitut teachers, the overwhelming dominance of English and dialectical differences between regions and it all adds up to a big challenge - but a challenge that needs to be addressed and overcome if Nunavut is to reach its goal of truly becoming a bilingual society.

There is much more I could say and would like to say about this issue. However, I will save that until such time as I can think a little more coherently than I can at the moment. As with any profession, the education field is replete with its own jingoism - IL1 (Inuktitut as a first language), EL2 and ESL (English as a second language), L2 (second language) and LOI (language of instruction) - head is spinning.


Clare said...

Language is certainly a major issue here, but I've sort of followed the line of thinking that the biggest influence on language and culture comes from home. I have no fears for Travis and Hilary's inuktitut language skills. Travis certainly uses it as his lingua franca.

I DO however have fears about what kind of education they will receive here, and whether they will receive an education sufficient to prepare them for a life outside of Arctic Bay or Nunavut if that is what they want/choose. It seems to me that one first needs to ensure that they are going to receive an education that could compare to one they'd receive in the south THEN fix the language problem. Spend the money on ensuring that there are qualified teachers at all levels, ideally bilingual ones, and that there is a level of disipline in the schools that the students that want to learn have that opportunity and that teachers are not chased out by students out of control.

Way Way Up said...

I couldn't agree with you more. You raise a number of pertinent issues.

From what I understand, all Nunavut teachers must have a B.Ed. by 2010 or they will not be able to be certified. The GN seems intent on having as many trained-in-Nunavut teachers as possible to fill the ranks, particularly among the younger grades. Unfortunately, the demand vastly outstrips the supply of teachers going through the NTEP program. For some odd reason that makes absolutely no sense to me, the Education Department says that any NTEP graduate is qualified to teach any grade from K-12 in a Nunavut school when the reality is that much of their training focuses on K-6. My own certificate says I am qualified to teach any grade K to 12, yet I have gone through the Ontario system and could not in all fairness to students teach high school-level math and science. Yet according to the Ed. department I can teach this. So I wonder at times just how far removed from reality gov't bureaucrats are.

The consensus among many at our meetings was that teaching Inuktitut and English 50-50 from Kindergarten right up through gr. 12 would make the most sense. I really see no reason why this can't be started here in the fall. Unfortunately getting things done at times is like a glacier moving across he land.

As for discipline, I think this is a big issue that seriously needs to be addressd. it seems that schools have been severely handicapped in the past few years when it comes to the options they have for dealing with insolent and defiant students. I've quipped a few times that if I became an administrator, I may have a few parents annoyed with me for disciplining or suspending a student for unruly behaviour but I guarantee the school would be conducive to learning without the circus clowns around to foul it up.

At any rate, the time for talk is over and the time for action is here. Time to stop coming up with reasons why something won't work and make improvements NOW rather than wait for some fancy gov't plan to play out over the next umpteen years.

Anonymous said...

Well said, both of you. Clare makes the vital point about the influence of home on culture and language.

One of the challenges we face here is that some of the students in the NTEP program (who may or may not have graduated high-school themselves) are not comfortable with or prepared for teaching the math and science at the higher grade levels. For example, they are re-learning long-division to prepare them to teach at the lower grade levels (up to grade 5?), but (as far as I know) they don't review the algebra/geometry stuff of higher grade level math.

I wonder if for situations like that a school could have the Inuktitut-speaking teachers teach Social Studies, Health, PE, Computers, Art, Cultural Arts, etc and the English-speaking teachers teach English, Math and Science?

Discipline is a huge issue along with absenteeism. How many chances should a student have to come for about 40 days of a school year, year after year? From our experience here, when that student comes, he or she is so far behind in courses they find the work too challenging or they become behaviour issues for the teacher and the rest of the students.
There are so many students who come to school and WANT to learn - we should do everything we can to make sure they have a safe place to do so.

I have heard that there are consequences for parents who do not ensure their children are attending school, but I haven't seen that put to work to get kids to stay in school.

Way Way Up said...

Having Inuktitut teachers teach certain subjects at the lower grades and southerners teach say math, English, science was something suggested among staff. Unfortunately, it was also brought up that we don't have he staffing in order to do this. Personally, I feel that it is something that should be looked into. I would love to see a system figured out for this that works. I'm not always sure if the will-power to do this is there. I've run into the whole "well, this is the way we've always done things before" arguement many times in my career. Still, anything is better than what exists at the moment.

As for the absenteeism issue, past practice atour school has been that if a student does not show up for say a month of class, then they are taken off the class list. Back in the fall when students registered for high school courses, students with a history of dropping out had to sign a contract stating they would need to attend 7 out of the first 10 school days to stay registered. They would then not be allowed back for the remainder of the semester but were given the option of re-registering in the second semester. Students 21 and older need to get DEA permission in order to register for classes.

We have had few "drop-out" students that have stuck it out this year, much to their credit. However, as in past years, month into the school year, we see the familiar circus of students quitting for long periods of time. It really seems that the school can make all the rules, policies about this issue it wants but that very little will change until parents wake up and get on board.