Quebec needs to step up support to Nunavik’s school board: ombudsman
Special report points to overcrowded housing, poor attendance and graduate rates, limited curriculum
A new report prepared by Quebec’s ombudsman calls on the province to provide better support to Nunavik’s school board, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, to help improve education outcomes across the region.
The special report, released on Wednesday, Oct. 24, largely targets Quebec’s Ministry of Education and Higher Learning, by highlighting the region’s low school attendance and graduation rates, the prominence of English and French in an Inuktitut-speaking region, and limited access to post-secondary education.
“The ministry has adopted a restrictive vision of its role,” said Quebec Ombudsperson Marie Rinfret. “In so doing, it does not provide the school board with the support and the tools it needs to fulfill its mandate.”
Kativik Ilisarniliriniq operates 17 elementary and secondary schools across Nunavik’s 14 communities. In 2016-17, there were 3,686 students registered in those schools.
The challenges facing Nunavik’s education system are fairly well-documented: the region’s graduation rate sits at about 25 per cent, compared to 77 per cent elsewhere in Quebec.
Quebec’s ombudsman, known as the protecteur du citoyen in French, has received a number of complaints about the quality of educational services in the region, prompting an investigation that brought its staff to both Puvirnituq and Kuujjuaq in February 2018 to see the issues first-hand.
But the report’s first of 14 recommendations is aimed not at education officials, but at Quebec’s social housing agency, the Société d’habitation du Quebec, calling for it to work with all levels of government to draft an action plan to address the region’s housing shortage by April 2020.
Nunavik’s last housing survey suggests the region is short more than 800 units, forcing multiple families to share the same home. Overcrowding “does not create an environment conducive to education success,” the report said.
Among the other issues the Quebec ombudsman flagged in the report:
• A lack of Inuktitut-language instruction through the senior grades. While the primary language of instruction in the early grades is Inuktitut, starting in Grade 4, students choose either an English- or French-language stream.
• A lack of secondary curriculum considered prerequisites for many post-secondary programs. KI doesn’t offer Secondary 5 level physics, chemistry or mathematics courses.
• Difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers. KI relies on hiring much of its teacher workforce from the south, but each year, the school board struggles with teacher shortages. Teacher absenteeism forces the school board to close classes every day, the report said.
• A slow response on the part of the Quebec government to KI’s request for infrastructure funding, to build new schools and staff housing. The report offers the example of a new high school for Inukjuak, first requested in 2015 and only approved in 2018.
• Student absenteeism is common. The ombudsman’s report said interviews with families suggested some of the reasons for this are the extreme cold and the frequent breakdown of school buses across Nunavik. But the report acknowledges there is little data to understand the causes of absenteeism.
To remedy that, the ombudsman’s report recommends the Ministry of Education approach KI for data on school attendance, and work with KI on measures to promote compulsory school attendance.
The report also urges the province to work with KI to produce an action plan to “substantially increase the number of qualified Inuit teachers” in the system.
The report’s other recommendations are broad and vague at times, like suggesting the ministry “decide on a work plan for the roundtable for the educational success of Indigenous students that specifies the objectives and the time line for achieving them.”
Education officials in both Nunavik and Quebec already meet regularly as part of an education roundtable, established in March 2018, created in the wake of a a communication breakdown that resulted in Nunavik secondary graduates not receiving diplomas for a number of years.
For its part, KI said Oct. 24 it welcomes the report, which touches on key challenges facing the region’s education system.
The school board said it has seen positive developments in its working relationship with the Ministry of Education, now headed by a new minister, Jean-François Roberge.
The Quebec ombudsman plans to follow up with the ministry in both February and December 2019 to check in on its response to the report’s recommendation.