Nunavut education minister responds to letter

“Bilingual education is our shared goal”


In response to the letter to the editor in the Dec. 10 issue of Nunatsiaq News, the Department of Education would like to provide some information on bilingual education and literacy in Nunavut.

The Department of Education is committed to the development of a fully bilingual education system. Both the Education Act and Inuit Language Protection Act mandate that every student, regardless of learning needs, is entitled to receive a bilingual education. This must include an Inuit language and either English or French.

These requirements, which were developed in consultation with the public, are now law in Nunavut. It is the government’s responsibility to work towards fulfilling these laws. The target date for meeting the requirement to provide a fully bilingual education system is the 2019-20 school year. This work is being coordinated by a territory-wide strategy that must be phased in over time.

District education authorities (DEAs) have been funded and supported to consult with their communities about making language of instruction choices and determining the instructional model that would work best for their community. This approach means that the territorial bilingual education strategy can be flexible to meet the needs and wishes of each community.

The department has a long history of producing made-in-Nunavut curriculum and resources in a variety of languages. This development is now grounded in the foundation document “Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit: Education Framework for Nunavut Curriculum.” This document, informed by substantial consultation and particularly by input from elders, describes our beliefs about education and schools founded on IQ.

This framework is supported by an approved list of curriculum and program materials and resources from kindergarten through Grade 12, a catalogue of Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun books, and new additions are made each year. To supplement the materials and resources available now, teams of educators are working with department staff in collaboration with curriculum writers and elders from across Nunavut.

The department has recently implemented teaching resources in Inuktitut Language Arts for Grades 10-12 and is developing teaching resources in Inuktitut Language Arts for Grades 7-9. Additional Inuktitut teaching aides and a handbook for how to teach language arts bilingually for Grades K-6 are also in development.

Literacy is a critical part of supporting our students to succeed. The Department of Education acknowledges that students who lack adequate literacy and numeracy skills in at least one language may struggle at acquiring a second language and progressing in both. Schools need to teach in Inuit languages to a high standard of expectation. It is also the obligation of Department of Education staff to provide the supports necessary to ensure that each student can succeed.

The development of basic literacy skills in our children should also be supported before children enter school. Research tells us that children learn best in their primary school years in their first language, or the language they come to school speaking.

Parents need to be encouraged and supported to use their Inuit language at home, as reading to children and story telling are the seeds of literacy. Community members need to speak an Inuit language in daily life outside the home. The Education Act has also provided the opportunity for DEAs to run early childhood education programs to support Inuit language development, which can be established beginning in 2011.

Nunavut schools are working toward the goal of producing bilingual graduates who are fluent in two languages, and who can be successful in both the Nunavut context and the global context. In order to do our work, we also need support from parents and community members to encourage students to attend school punctually and regularly, until they reach the graduation stage.

With respect to the low graduation levels mentioned in the Dec. 10 letter, much progress has been made over the past 10 years. In 2009, 247 students earned their Grade 12 diploma, compared to 128 students in 1999.

The department acknowledges that more work is needed to ensure that the number of graduates continues to increase. Parents, DEAs, and school staff also need to work together to help students gain the skills necessary to move on to post-secondary education, or choose another option for their future.

We look forward to continuing the public dialogue about language and education in our territory. We encourage all parents and community members to share their questions and concerns on this topic with their district education authorities.

Hon. Louis Tapardjuk
Minister of Education
Government of Nunavut

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Nunatsiaq News welcomes letters to the editor. But we are under no obligation to publish any given letter at any given time.

In our print edition, we usually print letters on a first-come, first-served, space-available basis. In our online edition, we usually print letters as soon as we are able to prepare them for publication.

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