Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut March 10, 2017 - 7:00 am

Extensive changes coming to Nunavut’s Education Act

Bill to amend the act creates Council of DEAs, sets new target for bilingual education

Education Minister Paul Quassa answers questions from reporters after his colleagues in the legislature gave Bill 37, an Act to Amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act, second reading March 9. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)
Education Minister Paul Quassa answers questions from reporters after his colleagues in the legislature gave Bill 37, an Act to Amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act, second reading March 9. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)

The Government of Nunavut tabled long-awaited amendments to the territory’s Education Act March 7, which amount to 101 pages of detail on extensive reforms to Nunavut’s education law.

The act is the product of several reviews and public consultations, which began after the Auditor General of Canada released a highly critical report on the territory’s education system in 2013.

In that report, the auditor general noted that Nunavut’s Department of Education was unlikely to meet its goal of a fully bilingual education system—as set out in the territory’s existing Education Act—that includes the Inuit language as the language of instruction alongside English or French, from kindergarten to Grade 12 by the year 2020.

The department has admitted it cannot meet that goal due to a shortage of teachers who can teach in the Inuit language.

The amendments to the act, known as Bill 37, establish 2030 as the new target to implement fully bilingual education up to Grade 9.

The bill states the department will also, “monitor the teaching capacity in Nunavut that is able, available and willing to provide the bilingual education program” from Grades 10 to 12.

Among the bill’s biggest changes to the education system is the establishment of a Council of District Education Authorities, which replaces Nunavut’s Coalition of DEAs, and takes on many of its responsibilities.

The Council’s members will be elected by district education authorities in each of the territory’s three regions, with three serving the Qikiqtani region (not including Iqaluit), two for each of the Kivalliq and Kitikmeot regions, plus one for each of Iqaluit and the French-language Commission scolaire francophone du Nunavut.

Duties of the DEA Council will include training and support of local district education authorities and assisting the Department of Education in the “long-term planning of the public education system” in two annual meetings.

The act also revises the powers of DEAs, specifying that they will be responsible for providing “local community planning.”

The minister of education will establish curriculum for schools to follow throughout the territory, from kindergarten to Grade 12.

DEAs will decide on which bilingual language models of instruction their schools will use, as specified in education regulations that outline the percentage of Inuit-language and English or French language instruction.

The bill as currently written did not specify how the “language models” of bilingual instruction may change.

DEAs now have a choice of three language models to follow for their schools. Each specifies a specific mix of courses to be taught in the Inuit language and English.

The amendments to the Education Act passed second reading in Nunavut’s legislative assembly March 9. Bill 37 is now up for review by the government’s Standing Committee on Legislation.

“Certainly I look forward to hearing back from m the standing committee as to what their response will be in this amendment to the Education Act,” Education minister Paul Quassa told reporters March 9 at the legislature following question period.

“I certainly want to thank the public for all the hard work and responses we got. It took us over a year to go through all the public consultations and certainly we did listen to what the general public and all the stakeholders had talked about,” he said. “We took all those comments and concerns very seriously.”

But Nunavut Tunngavik’s president Aluki Kotierk didn’t seem so impressed with the new act.

In a statement released late March 9, Kotierk said, “the proposed amendments are window-dressing at best and reduce the right to Inuktut language of instruction. The proposed changes appear to offer district education authorities a choice of instituting Inuktut language of instruction in schools, but without significantly increasing Inuktut-speaking teachers, DEAs will not be able to offer this choice to students.

“The Inuit self-determination that is promised in our Nunavut Agreement will only be realized when Inuit children are taught in Inuktut and graduate from high school.”

Kathy Okpik, the education department’s deputy minister, plans to answer media questions on Bill 37 at a technical briefing March 10. Bill 37 includes amendments to the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act.

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