Nunavut math classes need more English: Arviat MLA
“Math, along with reading and writing, is critical to any student’s success”
Arviat South MLA Joe Savikataaq wants Nunavut’s education department to amend its current language of instruction regulations to ensure that students are getting a proper mathematics education.
That would mean allowing more English language instruction.
Most of the bilingual education models established under Nunavut’s Education Act’s language of instruction regulations require that 85 to 90 per cent of instruction from kindergarten to Grade 3 is delivered in the Inuit language, Savikataaq told Nunavut’s legislative assembly May 26 during question period.
“[But] education officials have noted that subjects such as mathematics cannot be taught in the Inuit language due to the lack of terminology,” he said.
“The current language requirements… severely restrict our ability to provide a solid educational foundation in one of the cornerstone subjects of modern education,” Savikataaq said.
“Math, along with reading and writing, is critical to any student’s success.”
Savikataaq called on the education minister to amend regulations to allow for more English language math instruction from kindergarten to Grade 3.
“Reviewing and possibly bringing forward amendments to legislation can be a long and time-consuming process,” he added. “Regulations, on the other hand, can be changed relatively quickly.”
MLAs will in fact review the Education Act, Quassa responded, with a focus on kindergarten to Grade 3 education, as well as Grade 12.
The Education Act states that Inuktitut and English should be the languages of instruction.
The language of instruction regulations that were agreed upon in 2012 were supposed to be reviewed every five years, Quassa added.
As it stands, district education authorities in each Nunavut community measure students’ Inuktitut skills to determine what level of English instruction each school should receive.
“That’s what we follow from kindergarten to Grade 12,” Quassa said.
But Quassa noted that math instruction is not actually about language — it’s about numbers.
“Up to now, we have been discussing the matter with the department that math refers to one thing. It’s not English; it’s just numbers,” Quassa said in reply to Savikataaq’s question.
“I have directed our staff that math should be a subject on its own and not divide the issue.”
Other Inuktitut-speaking jurisdictions have taken steps to adjust the language of instruction in math classes.
In 2011, Nunavik’s Kativik School Board decided to introduce English numbers to children in Grades 1 to 3 – grade levels that normally study in Inuktitut only.
Up until that point, Nunavik students had learned how to count up to the number 20 in Grade 1, past the number 59 in Grade 2, and above the number 100 in Grade 3 — all in Inuktitut.
The school board’s goal was for students to learn how to count up to 999 by the end of Grade 2 — like other kids in Quebec — and make learning mathematics in the higher grades easier for them.
Inuktitut words for numbers continue to be used in those lower grades in Nunavik, except when students work on math-related activities such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
Some Inuktitut words used for larger numbers are borrowed from English, such as hannalan (100,) tausat (1,000) and milian or vilian (1,000,000.)
But numbers in certain Inuit dialects can be long to say and write in Roman orthography: 567 is “tallimat aggaillu arvinillit aggaillu marruungnik arvinillit,” or, “tallimanik hannalan arvinillit aggaillu marruungnik arvinilik.”