Lured by lower stress and better pay, Inuit teachers are flocking to non-teaching jobs at the Nunavu

News Analysis: The vanishing Inuit teacher in Nunavut


Some of the most ambitious plans for bringing Nunavut more in tune with Inuit culture face a big obstacle.

Whether it's the Government of Nunavut's hope to have Inuktitut spoken in the classroom from Kindergarten to Grade 12 by 2012, or Nunavut Tunngavik's demand that the territory's forthcoming language laws make it mandatory for all government employees to receive Inuktitut instruction, these laudable goals all depend on Inuit teachers.

There aren't enough of them. And if it's anyone's fault, it's partly that of the Government of Nunavut and NTI, because Inuit teachers continue to leave the classroom for low-stress, higher-paid office jobs offered by these organizations, which are eager to hire qualified, educated Inuit.

Slightly more than one in three teachers employed by the Government of Nunavut during the 2006-7 school year were Inuit: 262 of 696 teachers.

Schools across Nunavut struggle to retain these teachers. Kimmirut lost both of the teachers who taught Inuktitut classes for Kindergarten and Grades 1 and 2 shortly after the school year started. They were reportedly lured away by better jobs.

Twenty Inuit teachers graduated this June from the Nunavut Teacher Education Program. "But who knows how long they'll be in schools," said Ooloota Maatiusi, principal of NTEP. "We've lost a lot of teachers to other, higher-paying jobs."

Meanwhile, the eastern Arctic's first generation of Inuit teachers are reaching retirement age.

The GN will need many more Inuktitut-speaking teachers to carry out its goal of extending Inuktitut instruction from K-12 and to create a fully bilingual civil service. As it stands, no one seems to have any idea where they will come from.

Nunavut's education department did draft an ambitious plan last spring, which would cost $16.4 million each year, from now until 2016, but Ed Picco, the education minister, admits there's no money available to implement it.

In addition, no Inuktitut curriculum exists for higher grades. And many Inuit teachers lack the qualifications right now to teach higher grades.

NTI's solution is to sue the federal government for not paying the cost of training Inuit to fill a representative number of government jobs. Ottawa replies that education is the territory's responsibility, and doesn't show any sign of backing down.

The shortage of Inuit teachers in Nunavut may impede more than the aspirations of the GN and NTI. It may also be at the heart of much squabbling that takes place over Nunavut's schools.

Parents and children alike commonly complain schools are alien, unwelcoming institutions. The Iqaluit District Education Authority says this is partly due to the practice of suspending kids who misbehave, which they say is culturally insensitive, or the the lack of provisions for Inuit culture in the current Education Act.

But perhaps a simpler explanation as to why schools don't feel Inuit enough is that too few Inuit work in the schools, especially in teaching higher grades.

Iqaluit's Inuksuk High School holds half a dozen Inuit culture days a year, a class on Inuit traditional knowledge and the odd trip on the land, but other than this, the school may be more culturally representative of Newfoundland, where many of the territory's teachers orginate, than Nunavut.

The obvious solution would be to increase the number of Inuit teachers. But that's easier said that done.

In fact, it may not even be easy to say, since as yet, the shortage of Inuit teachers has gone largely undiscussed by members of the legislative assembly, while demands to make the schools and workforce more representative of Inuit culture grow ever louder.

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