Nunavut school attendance at 23 per cent since Omicron
MLA Joe Savikataaq asks education minister for tangible plans to up attendance
Overall school attendance has taken a hit since the Omicron wave of COVID-19 arrived in Nunavut in mid-December, resulting in months of schools being closed, then open — then closed and open again in some communities.
On average, less than one-quarter of Nunavut students have been walking through school doors — 23 per cent, according to Education Minister Pamela Gross.
She reported the average attendance rate in the legislative assembly on Tuesday.
That’s compared to a pre-pandemic attendance rate of 76.5 per cent, according to the 2019-2020 Department of Education annual report.
“The department has seen lower attendance rates due to COVID-19, with students isolating, teachers isolating, or people who have contracted COVID-19,” Gross said, adding attendance has gone down “significantly.”
Savikataaq said he has noticed students going to school less in his own riding, parents in Cambridge Bay have spoken out about being reluctant to send their kids back to classes, and the head of Iqaluit’s district education authority has voiced concerns about a big teacher shortage leading to cancelled classes.
“We could have the best school system in the world, but if the kids don’t step in the door to go in the school, they can’t take advantage of it,” Savikataaq said.
He also suggested students might just not be used to going to school anymore.
Most schools in Nunavut are now open at 100 per cent capacity, and the Nunavut government has announced plans to end its territorial public health emergency on April 11.
Savikataaq asked what Gross’s department is to address the attendance issues.
Gross, again, encouraged students to go to school when they are able to and are feeling well.
“I encourage those students that are maybe fearful or their parents may be fearful to send their kids to school,” Gross said.
“We’re learning to live with COVID.”
Savikataaq asked Gross again about what specific actions the Education Department is taking to get kids back into classrooms.
“We simply cannot rely on policies and directives alone to address this issue,” he said.
She said the department has to ensure stay-in-school initiatives are being developed with local district education authorities s to support attendance, but did not say what those initiatives could look like or include.
It was so stupid that schools were closed for extended periods early in the pandemic, when these isolated communities were able to keep the virus out by stopping travel in and out. A community with no covid cases does not need to have schools closed! Kids will continue to play and visit together no matter what the directives are, so the schools should have always remained open except in cases of outbreaks early in the pandemic.
I hope governments have learned from this and will not use this strategy again, but I fear that people in the north adore shutting down work and school as much as possible (a societal condition which long pre-dates Covid) and will seize the opportunity again, now that it has been normalized. Now, even the previous poor attendance habits have been lost, and skipping school is the norm, if less than a quarter of kids are going!
The kids’ parents definitely shoulder a good chunk of the blame in not getting the kids back on track, either. Responsibility and reliability are not key values in Canada’s north, which is sad to see. It doesn’t have to be that way. Letting your child decide whether or not to go to school is not kindness. Kids need to be pushed to do things they don’t want to do, as always taking the easiest path in the moment does not lead to good life outcomes.
Government directives have certainly appeared reactive, haphazard, incoherent and inconsistent throughout.
To compare, Ontario schools’ worst attendance rate since covid started was 70%. And their Covid rates were much higher than here in Nunavut. Get your kids back in school and take it seriously, they are the future of this Territory.
The original strain of COVID was far more serious than what we are seeing now and the variants along with the vaccines seem to produce far less serious symptoms in most people. Now when most people get COVID it’s like having a cold or flu. The original shut downs were necessary in my opinion. I think there would have been a lot more deaths world wide if we hadn’t had all the restrictions in place. But now we are coming out the other side of this thing or so it appears at least so lets get back to some kind of normal. Get those kids back in school. Parents must be sick of having them home too all the time or now half of the time. It will be a struggle to get the attendance back up again so let’s get on with it already. We don’t need to encourage kids to be staying home, gaming and being lazy. Kick their butts out the door.