Table set for heated debate on Nunavut Education Act
Languages commissioner at odds with special committee of MLAs
The table is now set for a heated debate on how to change Nunavut’s eight-year-old Education Act, following the release earlier this month of a final report from a special committee of MLAs set up to review it.
In that report, the committee urges objectives that are “practical, realistic and attainable,” suggesting Nunavut should abandon some of the unachievable goals entrenched in the current version of the Education Act.
And the tone of the report also suggests MLAs favour a school system whose top priority is the preparation of students for jobs and post-secondary studies, rather than preservation of Inuit culture and language
“The Special Committee wishes to emphasize that the delivery of an education system is too important to be driven primarily by political idealism,” the report said.
To do that, the committee recommends either amending or deleting deadlines in the current law that call for a fully bilingual Inuktut-English school system by 2019-20.
The Auditor General of Canada told the Government of Nunavut two years ago this goal is impossible to meet — because there aren’t enough Inuktut-English teachers working in the system.
And the Department of Education, the report said, has yet to complete work aimed at finding out how many bilingual Inuktut-English teachers are needed to meet their current language education goals.
The MLAs’ committee also recommends deleting “specific references to the incorporation of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit in Nunavut’s education system” and instead, teaching IQ as a specific subject.
And they recommend a clearly stated goal or vision statement, and a “single language of instruction model” for all Nunavut schools within “a consistent, standardized program and curriculum across all regions and communities of Nunavut.”
And the purpose of that standardized program?
It’s to “prepare youth from early childhood education through high school graduation for further levels of education and future employment,” the special committee report said.
And if the Inuit Language Protection Act — which states every child has the right to receive Inuit language instruction — gets in the way of any changes to the Education Act, then the language law should bend to accommodate those changes, the committee suggests.
“While the provisions of the Inuit Language Protection Act must be taken into account, the Special Committee stresses that the implementation of such cross-legislative requirements must also accommodate the overall objectives of the Education Act itself,” the report said.
That prompted Nunavut’s languages commissioner, Sandra Inutiq, to weigh in Nov. 16, saying the report is “seemingly regressive in protecting and revitalizing Inuktut.”
“There are statements made in the report that are quite troubling,” Inutiq said in a statement.
For example, she referred to sections of the report that appear to support the idea of emphasizing “a strong academic foundation” over the teaching of Inuit language, culture and history.
“The suggestion that it is a choice between language, culture and history or an academic one is a continuation of a colonialistic idea that Inuit culture and language is inferior, and cannot be academic. Language, culture and academics should not be viewed as mutually exclusive,” Inutiq said.
She also said the report appears to suggest a reformed Education Act should take precedence over the Inuit Language Protection Act.
“It is not clear to me what is meant by the statement “cross-legislation requirements must accommodate the Education Act itself. Unless there is a suggestion that this language right should not exist. Taking away rights is serious,” Inutiq said.
Inutiq’s objections to the special committee report should come as no surprise to the special committee.
That’s because they already know Nunavut residents are divided over what they want the education system to do.
“It is important to note that the Standing Committee received various contributions during its review process that reflect deeply-held and contrasting ideological views of Nunavummiut,” the report said.
The report says some people want an education system that gives students a strong academic foundation, while others want a system that emphasizes Inuit societal values and Inuit language, culture and history.
And it’s the latter priority that is emphasized in the act right now.
“It was pointed out that the Education Act, as it is currently written, places a heavy emphasis on the preservation of language and culture as a central value,” the report said.
But the MLAs said others argue the “single most critical value” of education should be student achievement.
“This issue was elaborated on further by another contributor who maintained the position that the standard for achievement of Nunavut’s education system should be to ensure that any child graduating from any community should be able to make the transition into post-secondary education, and to enable graduates to take on professional and leadership positions within the territory,” the report said.
The legislative assembly passed the current version of the Education Act in November 2007 and it became law on Sept. 18, 2008.
On that date, the Inuit Language Protection Act also received assent.
The legislative assembly set up their special committee — in the wake of the auditor general’s highly unflattering report — to meet a requirement in the legislation that the Education Act be reviewed after five years.
Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes — prior to his appointment to cabinet — and Baker Lake MLA Simeon Mikkungwak co-chaired the committee.
Education Minister Paul Quassa, Iqaluit-Niaqunngu MLA Pat Angnakak, and Arviat South MLA Joe Savikataaq served as members.
The committee recommends that any changes to the Education Act and its attached regulations be completed with the life of the fourth legislative assembly.
That means they want the work done by October 2017, when the next territorial election is likely to be held.