Thoughts on basic education in Nunavut


For the time being Inuktitut should not yet be used as the only language of instruction during the earliest years of schooling (Kindergarten to Grade 3.)

I am definitely not suggesting that it should not be taught or used in schools.

What I am saying is that there is not yet a Nunavut-wide Inuktitut curriculum that may be followed to teach children the required literacy skills and language knowledge needed during the earliest years of schooling.

There are, of course, exceptions. Some schools have experienced and skilled teachers who have developed an operational set of materials and who know how to teach literacy, and I should add numeracy skills, to children throughout their earliest years of schooling.

Based on numerous studies conducted over many years, it is a recognized fact that children who do not have well established literacy skills by the end of the third grade most likely will not graduate from high school.

Students who cannot read nor write adequately by the end of Grade 6 might as well forget about post-secondary education unless they receive intensive help. These observations hold true for any language found anywhere on our planet – not just Inuktitut. Similar precepts hold true for numeracy skills.

According to the very recent GN report card, 75 per cent of Nunavut students do not graduate from high school. Those who do graduate from high school often experience difficulties when they try to obtain a more advanced education or to enter the workforce, apprenticeships, or other specialized training.

Basic literacy skills are essential when learning new languages. Weak language skills in one language will transfer into corresponding weak literacy skills in the other language.

Poor literacy skills also negatively affect the English language that, along with the French language, is still the prime academic and operational language in Canada.

However, only a dismal 21 per cent of Canadians between 15 and 25 have achieved a level of literacy “needed by adults to participate fully and fairly in the knowledge economy.”

In Nunavut this percentage is smaller – in fact between 70 per cent and 80 per cent are below the minimum level of literacy – a level lower than that needed by adults to participate in a knowledge economy.

We all know that Inuktitut is a language going through an unprecedented period of transition and is threatened by other languages.

However, there is not yet an accepted, coordinated strategy to address the several problems facing the survival of Inuktitut throughout Nunavut.

As yet, there are no standards or benchmarks created for Inuktitut. There is not yet a standard set of materials. There are several dialects. There are two basic orthographies.

There have been several worthy projects and individual efforts throughout Nunavut to foster and develop the Inuktitut language and Inuit culture. Many of these are isolated and confined to one area.

Yet, without a well-formulated strategy and coordinated programs it is impossible to insure the survival of this language, and with it, an integral portion of the culture.

In Nunavut we have a respected corps of experienced, talented and educated teachers who possess the ability and innovation to properly instruct languages and numeric skills.

However, quite often they are found in the more advanced grades of school. In order to reduce the literacy and numeric problems facing our children should we not have most of our best teachers instructing classes from kindergarten to Grade 3.

But, they need proper programs and materials. Time and money are wasted on a language that has little hope of survival in its present form.

At one time I laboured under the impression that in order to solve the problem of making the transition from Inuktitut to English or French, we needed more teachers trained and experienced in teaching a language as a second language.

I still believe that teaching a “language as a second language” skills are necessary and needed, but I now realize that any language learning depends upon having basic literacy skills and knowledge.

The other side of the coin rests directly with parents and guardians and indirectly with every individual in every community. We can have the most sophisticated and advanced curriculums and education systems in the world but without support and commitment from society at large and in particular parents and guardians, everything is for naught.

Children require proper guidance and support. Likewise, it is the same for any language. In order for it to survive do not rely completely on the school system. Inuktitut must be used at home and in the workplace as much as possible.

Frank Pearce

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