IDEA launches research program to highlight “education gap”
Nunavut’s schools still below national standards
Nunavut’s schools produce just one-third as many high school graduates as schools in the rest of Canada, and if parents don’t have the information on this, nothing will change, Iqaluit’s local education body says.
That’s why the Iqaluit District Education Authority conducted research and wrote a short, handy document called Closing the Education Gap: A status report on the issues, in plain language.
Christa Kunuk, IDEA chair, hopes to see this used as a “discussion paper.”
“I hope it makes people think and realize what’s been going on in Nunavut,” Kunuk said.
“We gathered this information because parents want to know how schools in Iqaluit compare to the rest of Canada,” she said. “In order to have informed debate about the needs of our education system and the reforms that are necessary, we need good information.”
The IDEA released the report Nov. 28, just days after delegates at the aboriginal summit in Kelowna committed to “closing the education gap” between aboriginal students and others by the year 2016.
The report looks at graduation rates first. In Nunavut, 25 per cent of school-aged people graduated in 2002-03, compared to 75 per cent in Canada as a whole. That means Nunavut ranks last in Canada.
The report also looks at funding. Funding for education in Nunavut is the highest in Canada, exceeding the national average by more than 25 per cent.
Nunavut spends more than twice as much per person on education than the provinces do. However, Nunavut’s total spending on education as a percentage of government spending is below the national average.
Next, social conditions are addressed, because Nunavut has bigger social problems than other Canadian jurisdictions, and often fewer resources to deal with students who are affected.
“Health issues, ranging from hunger and malnutrition to fetal alcohol syndrome, are emerging as an important factor in educational achievement,” the report says. “These conditions produce students with special needs, which, when not addressed, result in behaviour that is detrimental to the welfare of the student, the public school and the community.”
Many children with special needs are getting treatment only in schools, the report suggests. That uses up precious educational resources, and at the same time, does not provide adequate treatment for the children.
“The special needs of students may receive little or no other response than what the schools can offer. But it is probable that more efficient ways can be identified to assist students with special needs through other public agencies while allowing resources for public education to be applied entirely to closing the education gap.”
The report includes information from the few national standardized tests that have been performed in Nunavut’s schools, and notes that, even though there are problems with administering standardized tests in Nunavut, “the territory will find it difficult to opt out of the process as long as a link to national education standards is regarded as necessary for Nunavut public schools.”
Finally, the report notes that the gap is not closing, but widening as a growing population produces larger student groups.
For example, the number of high school graduates in Nunavut grew from 22 in 1990 to 60 in 1994 and to 128 in 1999. That’s good news, except that even with more graduates, there are even more students who are not graduating, which has caused the graduation rate to remain steady or decline since 1999.
The report also includes a section on the organization of the school system in Nunavut, and suggests more community control is needed. As it stands, the Department of Education and the teachers’ union are highly organized, while parents and student groups do not have clear roles and, as a result, get less of a say in education.
The IDEA plans to do more research to present objective information about Iqaluit schools to parents and students, and to encourage debate on the issues.
The next project will examine the issues around students who are at risk of dropping out of school before graduation. The third phase of research will look at programs in other Canadian schools that have managed to prevent at-risk students from dropping out of school.
Funding for this research came from the National Crime Prevention Strategy. Copies of the report can be obtained from the IDEA at 979-5324, or by visiting www.iqaluitdea.net.