Education a priority?


On June 17, 1999, the 19 Nunavut MLAs elected that year emerged from a three-day “retreat” in Baker Lake to declare their priorities.

Education and housing issues, they announced, would sit at the very top of their to-do list, and education was at the very top of that list.

The emphasis on education made its way into the Bathurst Mandate later that summer:
“A government-wide effort to support training and learning for a Nunavut-based workforce is one of the two primary commitments of this government’s mandate.”

Election time is judgment time, and a territorial election is just around the corner. How are the government and MLAs to be judged on their performance on the education issue?
So far, they’ve performed about as well as the Toronto Maple Leafs perform in the Stanley Cup playoffs – with hope, heart and good intentions. But by the end of the series, they’ve accomplished nothing.

Consider their performance on the Education Act. After going into triple overtime, they finished the game by firing the puck into their own net.

It all started back in October 1999, when James Arvaluk – remember him? – was minister of education. On Oct. 22, 1999, Arvaluk made a minister’s statement to announce that work had started on the creation of a new Education Act for Nunavut. He called it “an initiative that will impact on the development of education in Nunavut for many years to come.”

Right. Four year later, after dreary rounds of confused “consultations” and drafting efforts, they finally put Bill 1, their attempt to write a made-in-Nunavut education law, out of its misery.

On the infrastructure front, they’ve done better. Over the past couple of years they’ve allocated increasing amounts of capital dollars to pay for badly needed school renovations and added classroom space in a variety of communities. These are welcome measures.

But on the development of effective Nunavut-made education policies, the legislative assembly and the government have remained frozen in time. Parents and employers still have no guarantees that high school graduates are able to even read their diplomas – in any known language.

In Iqaluit, the recent debate over a proposal by the district education authority to conduct standardized tests supplied by Alberta in Iqaluit schools may have been confused and inconclusive. But at least it was a debate. MLAs have yet to conduct one, which makes one wonder what they were actually thinking when they decided that education is one of their two top priorities.

The Iqaluit controversy at least reminded us that Nunavut’s school system has no tools to measure the performance of schools, teachers and students. Without such tools, those who run the school system can never be held to account for their failures, or honestly lauded for their successes. Without such tools, citizens will never gain access to the information they need to hold the system accountable.

As for Arctic College, there is little evidence that many MLAs even know of the college’s existence. Despite the central role that this institution plays in job-training and literacy development for Nunavummiut, MLAs rarely ask any questions about it.

That makes you wonder if MLAs even knew what they were signing off on when they agreed that “a government-wide effort to support training and learning for a Nunavut-based workforce” would sit high up on their agenda. How many other sections of the Bathurst Mandate have they never read? JB

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