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Education Act same old stuff, critics say

Picco defends proposals as “best of what was available”

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

SARA MINOGUE

The Government of Nunavut’s Department of Education appears to be treading the same old ground with its second attempt at a made-in-Nunavut Education Act, says Iqaluit Centre MLA Hunter Tootoo.

The public consultations conducted before the first draft of the Education Act was released were “probably the most comprehensive every undertaken by this Assembly,” Tootoo said in the Legislature on Nov. 30, and the written submissions were “very impressive in the level of details they provided.”

That version of the Act failed to pass a third reading in the legislative assembly in 2002.

“What new developments have we seen as a result?” Tootoo then asked Education Minister Ed Picco. “We have seen a copy of the same proposed legislation that was rejected during the first Legislative Assembly being circulated.”

“The department is using previously developed material,” he continued. “The department is tracing the tracks that a lot of people felt were going in the wrong direction made by previous government officials and committee members.”

In response, Picco said that his department had opted to start with “the best of what was available” rather than trying to do the whole thing again.

The Iqaluit District Education Authority shares Tootoo’s concern about the new consultation process, and says so in its recently published document, Closing the Education Gap: A Status Report on the Issues.

“An informed debate on public education in Nunavut needs to begin,” the report reads.

“It is unlikely this debate can occur within the regular consultation format that was employed during the most recent attempt to produce a made-in-Nunavut Education Act.”

About 40 teachers, parents and residents met in the Parish Hall on Oct. 28 to take part in Iqaluit’s public consultation, in the presence of the education department’s legislative specialist working on the file, Manitok Thompson.

Christa Kunuk, chair of the IDEA was also at the table taking notes.

Terry Young, principal of Inuksuk High School, took the microphone to say he’d like to see more hands-on opportunities for kids who aren’t doing well in the academic mainstream.

There’s “a bottleneck in Grade 10” he said, caused by students who reach the Alberta curriculum and fail to pass the grade on their first try. More hands-on programming, he said, would help frustrated students.

Lori Idlout, executive director of the Nunavut Embrace Life Council, said students need to learn more about Inuit history.

Jane Cooper, a long-time Iqaluit resident, said she went through Nunavut’s school system from Grade 1 without any formal Inuktitut training, and fears that her children will also miss out on a chance to learn Inuktitut.

Looee Arreak said students need to learn Inuktitut and English together – instead of being plunged within one year from the Inuktitut stream right into all-English classes. She also said teachers needed more cultural orientation, and the opportunity after that orientation to decide whether they care to stay and work in the territory.

Barb Young, a teacher at Inuksuk High School, agreed that cultural orientation is essential. “I started working in Nunvaut in 1978 and I am really trying to get a handle on IQ,” she said, “but I don’t know what it is.”

Two parents spoke about their concern about the quality of education, and their fears of whether or not their children are getting an education equivalent to that in the South.

A teacher from Nakasuk School said the GN has a responsibility to inform parents about the importance of education.

“It looks to parents that kids are going to play there,” she said. The GN should be on the radio and on television, “like [Education Minister Ed] Picco’s smoking campaign” to help educate parents about the education system, and the effects of cumulative days missed.

Other parents talked about discipline, truancy fines, the need for more traditional skills, or, from the other side of the room, the need for more academic courses.

In the midst of all these opinions, however, little was actually said about the draft bill of the Education Act.

In fact, few people appear to have read the 74-page document, and many people in the audience were viewing the education department’s “issues for discussion” pamphlet for the first time.

In the legislative assembly Picco pointed out that his department has produced a document comparing the old Northwest Territories act to the proposed bill now in circulation, as well as a discussion paper that has been distributed to the public.

“I’ve been given a task by the premier to bring forward a new Education Act during this term,” Picco said, “and I’ve committed to the premier and to my cabinet colleagues and to the House that I would hopefully have that act in place by 2006.”

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