DEA coalition explains their demands


Thank you for writing about the important issue of “who should govern our schools” in your editorial of September 1, 2006. As elected representatives of parents, we don’t agree with all your opinions, but we do support an open discussion of this important issue.

We don’t recall that the Nunatsiaq News was in attendance at our recent meeting in Iqaluit, so we understand why you are asking the question “why are DEAs asking for more power and responsibility now?”

That question was answered clearly in our recent meeting:

1. The Record: Parents are deeply concerned that we graduate on average, 25 per cent of the students who enter school. Our communities are filled with young people who cannot join the economy or fully participate in Canadian society because their education levels are so low. Of greater concern is that the numbers are suggesting that the rate of graduation is actually declining. With this record, structural changes need to be made.

2. Governance: Many parent representatives voiced the observation that our schools were better governed 10 years ago than they are today. Ten years ago, the schools were governed by elected boards who were there because of one issue: education. Our MLAs in the Legislature have far too many important issues to be on top of – education concerns are lost in a sea of debates on bad gas, quotas, and devolution. If you need evidence of this, look at the scanty debate on the education budget when it was introduced earlier this year.

3. Local Control equals Local Responsibility: Parents are saying that with Department of Education regional offices located in distant communities, no one on the ground, in communities, are overseeing schools. Problems in the schools, or successes in our schools should be a community responsibly, not the job of a distant bureaucrat who tries to sort things out through e-mail or phone.

4. Local Control will Strengthen Bilingualism: We have looked at the experiences of two other language communities who were faced with a similar situation to our own – the loss of their mother tongue and culture under a dominant English environment. Thirty years ago the francophone minority communities in Canada faced similar challenges to us in their schools and through a model of local control of schools, resources and an investment in developing French teachers, their school system across Canada is strong as is their language and culture.

The second model is that Northern Ontario First Nations schools. There are nearly 40 and all are small (400 to 1,000 people), remote (fly-in only), and English is not the first language. Oji-cree is still a viable language. All the schools were operated by the federal government out of the Toronto Regional Office until the mid- 1980s, when, over a two year period, authority for education was devolved to the band councils. This authority included hiring and firing of teachers.

In the northern Ontario schools, issues like curriculum development and professional development for teachers are handled by the individual bands forming alliances. For example, five smaller communities formed themselves into one tribal council, which provides support to the communities in curriculum development, professional development and recruiting teachers.

The important point is that 18 years later these schools are thriving. Most offer bilingual education programs, have developed culturally relevant curriculum, and they have complete local control.

5. Nunavut precedent: In Nunavut, in accordance with the constitution of Canada, francophone parents are working with the GN to devolve full and effective local control. Nunavummiut parents are asking how the government can support francophone parents running their schools but oppose other Nunavummiut parents from doing so?

6. Cost-effectiveness: We have heard the concerns about creating “25 separate boards and bureaucracies” but this doesn’t have to be the model. Like the northern Ontario model, smaller communities in Nunavut, or communities close in distance, could band together under one administrative region. Moreover, rather than the education department sending bureaucrats in from distant regional centres, problems can be solved by the community, within the community.

As DEA representatives, we know that a truly bilingual (or trilingual) education system with effective local control will require tremendous commitment and leadership. In order to provide the required human and financial resources, some very difficult decisions must be made to redeploy limited GN resources and a concerted strategy to ensure that the federal government will fulfill its land claim implementation obligations. As Nunavummiut, can we afford to hide from this reality?

As parents of students in our education system, we think it’s okay to dare to dream and believe that things can be better than what we see today in our schools. That’s how Nunavut came about, and we believe that if nothing dramatic changes in the governance of our schools, nothing will change.

Jeeteeta Merkosak
Chair / Nunavut Coalition of DEAs
Christa Kunuk

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