Former teacher says focus on training could hurt education

Baffin teachers invited three people with different backgrounds to take part in a debate on education issues at a conference last week in Iqaluit.

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

ANNETTE BOURGEOIS

A former teacher says Nunavut’s students may not get a balanced education if schools instead try to train them for specific jobs with Nunavut’s government.

Kenn Harper made the comments to a gymnasium full of Baffin teachers participating in a week-long conference in Iqaluit.

Harper, Nunavut Tunngavik President Jose Kusugak and John Amagoalik, the chief commissioner of the Nunavut Implementation Commission, were panelists at last Friday’s wrap-up session to discuss the future of education in Nunavut.

“We hear so much these days about training of Inuit for the Nunavut workforce,” Harper said. “This emphasis on training is very important, but unfortunately it’s taking some of the focus away from education.”

Not enough work for all

Harper said everyone can’t pin his or her hopes on working for the Nunavut government and teachers need to educate students for mobility within Nunavut and within the world.

“This is a bitter pill to swallow, but the reality is there are not going to be the jobs in the smaller communities ¬ even the larger communities ­ to indefinitely absorb the workforce that’s being created,” he said.

Harper said students need to be prepared to find their places in the world, not pigeon-hole themselves into a career because there are job openings in a particular field.

“An informed view of the world and your place in it is ultimately the goal of education,” he said. “Training I see as being more narrow and having a more limited time frame and a more limited focus. It prepares you for a specific task.

“Is the goal of students being in school now so they can get a job or to get an education?” Harper asked. “We will not just need Inuit administrators and clerks and deputy ministers, we will also need doctors, lawyers, artists and writers.

“Unfortunately, I don’t see any focus right now on this balancing of people in the various spheres of northern life.”

Must prepare for jobs

Kusugak disagreed. He said Inuit must be ready for Nunavut jobs.

“I think we can develop a workforce stream in education,” he said. “We know there are these jobs coming up and there’s quite a few of them. We can afford to make a special stream because the need is there right now.”

Amagoalik added the temporary concessions being made to meet the immediate job demands will not devalue the whole education system.

“Although in the short term there may be occasions when some short cuts will be made,” Amagoalik said, “it’s in our interest to make sure our children don’t get a watered-down education ¬ that the standards of education be at least equal to national and international standards.”

Kusugak said one of the biggest stumbling blocks within the system in the past, and which still exists, is the lack of cohesion.

“There needs to be standard curriculum development, making sure education is right along side housing and health in importance,” Kusugak said. “It means not tinkering with the existing divisional boards but making the changes that are necessary to Nunavutize education.”

Harper said that for too long unqualified teachers have been teaching within the present system as schools attempt to offer subjects without proper resources.

“The assumption has often been any Inuk who can speak Inuktitut is automatically a teacher of Inuktitut,” he said. “It’s been a hopeless, hopeless situation. I think curriculum development is at the crux of all the challenges that you’re facing.”

Other topics that were discussed Friday included class size, budget cuts, the importance of land programs and job security after division.

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