Iqaluit schools struggling to find Inuktitut teachers



The challenges facing Iqaluit’s District Education Authority range from the loss of Inuktitut teachers to an outdated formula governing teacher-student ratio, said Kathy Smith, the chair of the town’s DEA.

For Inuktitut teachers, it’s a catch-22. In many cases, Smith said, the teachers are being lured away to high-paying government jobs — even as the GN calls for more Inuktitut to be taught to all students in Nunavut.

“Teaching’s a hard job. Right now we have a position open at Nakasuk School — Grade three Inuktitut — and we don’t have any applicants,” Smith said. “What do we do with those kids?”

Everyone seems to agree that Inuktitut instruction should be available for students. Plans to turn Joamie School into an Inuktitut-language school have been in the works for some time, Smith said.

But, she said, “before we can do that we’d better have enough teachers and resources to provide a program.”

Last spring, when Smith met with the dozen of graduates of Arctic College’s Nunavut Teacher’s Education Program, none of them wanted to teach in Iqaluit, she said.

“You can’t legislate [that] there shall be 50 graduates from NTEP each year ready to teach the Inuktitut program.”

David Serkoak, the principal of Joamie Ilinniarvik School, said he thinks the school could become an Inuktitut school.

But the change should come in stages, and not involve a complete switch all at once, he said.

The process will need strong support from the Department of Education in curriculum development and work must be done with Arctic College and students in the teacher-education program, Serkoak said.

“Any dream can become reality,” he said. “[I] think it can come and it can work.”

Too few teachers?

The DEA will soon begin lobbying the government to have the formula governing the ratio of teachers to students adjusted to reflect the reality of Iqaluit’s schools, Smith said.

The formula developed in Yellowknife doesn’t work in Iqaluit, she said. “The formula needs to be thrown out. It’s garbage.”

Smith said she favours what she calls a “program-based formula,” which would mean schools could increase the programs they offer — such as music programs, or on-the-land education.

“That high school up there, they should have a music teacher, an art teacher, a drama teacher, a culture-and-lands program. They should be equipped with snowmobiles and the kids could be building qamutiks and equipment,” she said.

And there’s another problem with the current system of allotting teachers, Smith said. According to the formula, the number of teachers the DEA is allowed to hire is based on the number of students enrolled at the end of October the previous year.

For the past two years Iqaluit has been successful in lobbying the government to make allowances for the town’s rapid growth, and hiring has been based on the number of students enrolled in May or June.

She hopes that will continue to happen until the formula is changed. The result is that Iqaluit has 12 more teachers than it would have if the formula were followed.

This fall the number of students in some Joamie School classes increased to near 30, and students keep coming, said David Serkoak, the principal. The school’s enrolment has increased as late as the first couple of weeks of January.

“I never agree with a formula in school enrolment,” he said.

Although Iqaluit schools are overstaffed according to the formula, “our classes are still understaffed because our classes are too big,” Smith said.

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