Auditor General: Nunavut won’t meet its bilingual education goal

“The magnitude of the task was underestimated”

By JIM BELL

In an undated file photo, middle school students in Iqaluit gather for the first day of school. In an audit report released Nov. 19, the Auditor General of Canada has found Nunavut will not create an English-Inuktitut bilingual school system by 2019-20. (FILE PHOTO)


In an undated file photo, middle school students in Iqaluit gather for the first day of school. In an audit report released Nov. 19, the Auditor General of Canada has found Nunavut will not create an English-Inuktitut bilingual school system by 2019-20. (FILE PHOTO)

Just days after Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna declared that fixing the education system will rank as his government’s top priority, the Auditor General of Canada, Michael Ferguson, has given MLAs a highly unflattering portrait of the territory’s school system.

“We concluded that the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Education has not adequately managed most aspects of implementation of the Education Act,” the report said.

Speaker George Qulaut had the auditor general’s Nunavut education report tabled late in the afternoon of Nov. 19, at the first sitting day of the fourth legislative assembly.

He also tabled a separate, and equally critical, auditor general’s report on the safety of Nunavut’s schools and day care centres.

Readers may download the two reports by following links at this page on the auditor general’s website.

In the education report, the auditor general’s office found the GN will not meet the 2008 Education Act goal of achieving a full bilingual Inuktitut-English school system by 2019-20.

“As things stand now, it’s not going to happen,” said Ronnie Campbell, an assistant auditor general who attended the tabling of the report in Iqaluit.

One overarching reason, the auditor general’s office suggests, is that GN planners did not appreciate the size of the task they set for themselves after the legislative assembly passed the current Education Act in 2008.

“The magnitude of the task was underestimated,” Campbell said.

And the report also found that only five years after the clock started ticking, Nunavut is already behind schedule.

Under it, the GN was supposed to start creating a fully bilingual system, grade by grade, year by year, starting in 2013-14.

As of 2009-10, shortly after passage of the act, the GN offered bilingual instruction from kindergarten to Grade 3.

In 2013-14, they were supposed to extend that to Grade 4, to Grade 5 in 2014-15, one year at a time, until 2019-20, when they are committed to extending complete bilingual education as far as Grades 10, 11 and 12.

But of the five kindergarten to Grade 3 schools they audited, the AG’s staff found only one capable of meeting its Grade 4 bilingual requirement as of the fall of 2013.

And they predict this performance will get worse in the future.

“The schools will face greater challenges to meet bilingual education requirements as more and more grades need to become bilingual,” the report found.

The GN also admits this, and has already told the auditor general that they cannot meet their 2020 goal.

The report cited a variety of reasons for this impending failure. They include:

• a lack of qualified bilingual teachers;

• a lack of information within the education department on how many qualified bilingual teachers they need to train to meet the 2019-20 goal;

• the use of unqualified bilingual teachers, who don’t have teaching certificates, hired under “letters of authority;”

• slow movement on the production of curriculum and teaching resources, especially in Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun, where English resources are simply translated by teachers;

• only 50 per cent of required teaching resources have been produced so far;

• poor attendance — several schools reported attendance rates of less than 50 per cent and as low as 27 per cent in some months;

• poor implementation of “inclusive education,” in which many students move from grade to grade under a concept called “continuous progress” — but many don’t get the required assessments; and,

• teachers don’t get enough training, time, or support to provide individualized attention to students under the continuous progress system.

Other findings include big discrepancies between the marks that Grade 12 graduates obtain from writing mandatory Grade 12 exams taken from the Government of Alberta and classroom marks given by teachers.

In Nunavut, the final course mark is a combination of their classroom mark and their Alberta exam mark.

“On average, we found that for the three school years we tested, the classroom grade was 26 percent higher than the standardized test grade. For the 2010–11 school year, the difference was 30 percent,” the report said.

But in Whitehorse, Yukon, the difference was only four per cent.

“We found that the department has not conducted an analysis to understand these discrepancies,” the report said.

This means the education department does not know if students are properly prepared in the classroom, if mother tongue language is an issue, or if teachers get adequate support.

Yet another shortcoming is that the Department of Education has not complied with requirements to provide the legislative assembly with reports on implementation of the Education Act.

As of June 2013, the department had reported only on its 2009-10 year, with only “limited information” on Education Act implementation.

And the auditor general’s staff also commented on the relationship between low attendance rates and parental involvement in education.

“Parental involvement is paramount to the success of any attempt by the department to improve the quality of education in Nunavut,” the report said.

“Teachers cannot deliver even the best-designed curriculum, taught in a fully bilingual environment, if students do not attend school.”

Campbell said the auditor general’s office did not audit the quality of education in Nunavut, but that the report raises many questions that should be directed towards the department.

Campbell said that he and the auditor general, Michael Ferguson, will likely return to Nunavut in the first week of April next year to discuss the report with MLAs sitting on the legislative assembly’s standing committee on government operations and public accounts.

That will occur after the house resumes March 6 next year.

The five-year-old Education Act is also due to be reviewed some time soon.

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