Nunavut standing committee grills Department of Education on auditor general’s report

MLAs discuss student-educator ratio, department vacancies at committee meeting

Nunavut MLAs on the Standing Committee on Oversight of Government Operations and Public Accounts met in the legislative assembly on Sept. 25 and 26 to discuss a report from the auditor general on support for high school students and adult learners. (Photo by Emma Tranter)

By Emma Tranter

Nunavut MLAs took turns grilling the departments of education and family services and Nunavut Arctic College last week during a two-day sitting to discuss a report released by the auditor general in June.

The report, which was the result of a three-year audit, concluded that Nunavut’s Education Department does not adequately prepare high school students or adult learners for either post-secondary education or employment.

The audit examined seven Nunavut high schools over three school years. The initial report did not name which high schools the auditor general’s office visited. James McKenzie, the audit’s principal, confirmed during the sitting that they visited high schools in Iqaluit, Kugluktuk, Arctic Bay, Kimmirut, Rankin Inlet, Chesterfield Inlet and Baker Lake.

MLAs on the Standing Committee on Oversight of Government Operations and Public Accounts met in the legislative assembly on Sept. 25 and 26 to find out what each organization had done since the report’s initial release. McKenzie joined the committee’s discussions along with other staff from the auditor general’s office.

The report made 12 recommendations to all three organizations involved. Nine of those recommendations were specific to the Department of Education.

At the time of the audit, 18 out of 22 positions were unfilled in the Education Department’s educator development division, which is responsible for training school staff on the department’s directives and improving teaching practices.

Tracey MacMillan, assistant deputy minister of education, said the department has created a new curriculum transition team since the audit was released.

“They will look at supporting all of our high school students’ transition into areas of work, including cooperative experiences, hands-on learning, and continuing to expand in that area. So it was a valid area to be examined,” MacMillan told the committee.

MacMillan also noted the department had filled four of the 18 vacant positions in the educator development division.

The report states that 39 per cent of students enrolled in Grade 10, 11 or 12 had been enrolled in the same grade the year before. Of the students who took more than one year to complete a grade, one-third would leave school before finishing that grade.

Adam Lightstone, MLA for Iqaluit-Manirajak, noted that the department does not keep track of high school dropout rates in the territory.

“In future reports this will be considered,” MacMillan said.

Lightstone’s questions led to a similar interrogation from John Main, chair of the committee and MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove, who said his home community of Arviat has experienced “substantial cuts” to teacher numbers and a high student dropout rate after the beginning of the school year.

“The first couple of weeks, school attendance is very high, but because the allocation of teachers is not based on just those couple of weeks at the beginning of the school year … the teachers are swamped and their classes are way too big and they don’t have enough teachers if those kids keep showing up,” Main said.

“If they keep showing up, they don’t have enough staff to handle them, and so poor attendance is kind of baked into the system,” he added. “This is how screwed up things are, when you mention the actual reality on the ground in the communities.”

Both Lightstone and Main criticized the department’s use of the student-educator ratio, a calculation used to determine the number of teachers assigned to each school by calculating the number of students who attend a school divided by the number of educators in the institution.

MacMillan said she would get back to the committee with a timeframe on when changes might be made to the student-educator ratio.

Also at that time of the audit, the Education Department did not have formal guidance counsellor positions in the schools. Two of the seven schools had assigned teachers to provide guidance and advice to students.

“I’m just curious to know if there are any new guidance counsellors in the schools and how many in the communities?” Margaret Nakasuk, MLA for Pangnirtung, asked MacMillan.

“Currently we have five guidance counsellors in our schools; two in the Qikiqtani region, two in the Kivalliq region, and one in the Kitikmeot,” MacMillan replied.

Lightstone asked MacMillan if the department would commit to also removing school counsellors from the student-educator ratio.

“I for one believe it would be in the government’s best interest if these guidance counsellors were removed from the student-educator ratio to ensure that principals and DEAs don’t have to make that tough decision whether they should support their high school students in achieving or completing their diploma,” Lightstone said.

“We’re definitely considering that. However, at this time we cannot make any commitments,” MacMillan said.

Also at the time of the audit, only one school in the territory, in Kugluktuk, had a pre-trades program. In response to the report’s call for more hands-on learning opportunities in the territory’s high schools, MacMillan said new work-experience programs will be field-tested at high schools in Baker Lake and Igloolik this school year.

Main asked McKenzie if he had any comments on how the Department of Education could retain staff in its own department.

“I know that the report says, ‘You need a strategy,’ and the department has said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to get a strategy.’ OK. Beyond that, aside from the whole strategy piece, observations or comments you might have?” Main said.

McKenzie said the department needs to recognize the role it plays in supporting not only students, but also teachers.

“The more support that can be put in place for the teachers, I think, would ultimately help potentially in terms of the retention of those teachers,” he said.

Several MLAs also questioned the college over the report’s finding that its Adult Basic Education program, which provides adult learners with similar courses to what is available in the territory’s high schools, was not offered in most of Nunavut’s communities over the last five years.

Paul Quassa, MLA for Aggu, asked Pauloosie Suvega, president of Nunavut Arctic College, to explain why the program was so rarely offered.

“Some of the reasons are budgets as sometimes it does not fit in the budget,” Suvega said, adding that the college plans to work on new partnerships with other post-secondary institutions as well as Inuit organizations to implement the program.

The report notes that at the time of the audit, the GN was reviewing the Education Act. The audit did not examine federal training programs funded by the federal government or the activities of district education authorities.

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(12) Comments:

  1. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    Education begins at home.

    Think about that for a minute. don’t just sit your Child in front of the tv all hours of the day and hope that one day the Teachers will instill the thirst for knowledge in your Child. don’t blame the Teachers for the lack of education, for the homework, for the quality of education your Child deserves.

    it starts when your little one wants to read the book. when your little one plays with blocks. when you teach your Child to read at an early age and to count. and it continues when your Child brings homework, don’t ignore the homework and assume that your Child is completing and handing in assignments on time.

    work with your Child and make sure that if he or she is struggling to ask for help.

    education is not from 9am to 3:30 pm.

    it starts by making sure your Child has enough sleep. stop letting them stay out until midnight on a Tuesday night. make sure they get enough sleep so that they may go to school with a fresh mind and ready to learn.

    talk with them at meal time.

    yes, our Teachers and Principals are there to nurture and teach them during the day. but it’s our jobs as Parents to make sure they go to school rested and ready. they deserve it.

    • Posted by Northern Guy on

      I couldn’t agree with you more! I know people with kids in educational systems across Canada and with the exception of the very few that have kids enrolled in expensive private schools not one of them feels that their schools are adequately preparing their kids for postsecondary education or employment. The reality is that parents play a very very big part in ensuring their kids are prepared That means good food, lots of rest and it means meeting with teachers regularly to discuss your child’s progress and it means sitting down with them every night to do a couple of hours of extra school work and/or home work. If you, as a parent, are expecting the Department of Education and your local school to fully prepare your kid then you have already failed your kid.

    • Posted by yes! on

      Bingo. I’ve had kids go through the school system here, and guess what? They turned out fine. Did well in university. Could they have done better if they were down south? We’ll never know. One thing is for certain though, teachers love kids who pay attention and parents who are involved (but respectful, lots of parents are involved but for the wrong reasons). In high school there were so many dropouts and no-shows that my kids got way more one-on-one time with their teachers.

      A big part of the problem is effort on the part of the parent and child. I think there’s lots of room for improvement in the schools, but I think some folks there have become jaded because they see the ridiculously high mountain they have to climb in order for some of these kids/parents to get back on track.

      What makes me hopeful is that some of these kids do well in school despite their parents being completely irresponsible with their child’s wellbeing. Those kids are the ones who are going to break the cycle of entitlement that plagues this territory.

    • Posted by Frontiers on

      “Education begins at home”.
      I fully concur!

  2. Posted by Mandarin Orange on

    McKenzie said the department needs to recognize the role it plays in supporting not only students, but also teachers. “The more support that can be put in place for the teachers, I think, would ultimately help potentially in terms of the retention of those teachers.”

    I’d like to hear more about these supports. As it is this comments seems a bit platitudinous, and though I understand the difficulty of implementing and creating specific supports, walking away from this brief offering of rhetoric is simply not good enough.

  3. Posted by Bbff on

    Work experience programs have existed for many years and is a current option for students to collect credits. It needs someone, like a counsellor to monitor the program and get it organized. Often the Counsellor is swamped and schools are understaffed with no support for basica like reading and social skills essentials to meet these kids needs! Stop penny pinching !

  4. Posted by step it up on

    Parents who let their kids sleep in for no reason and don’t go to parent-teacher meetings should be on Family Services’ radar. If you want to be a parent then start being an adult. I’m so sick of this BS.

  5. Posted by OMG on

    Who is McKenzie? Is it MacMillan? The answer to all things is create more absurd frameworks and then drop them on principals. Then create a 10 year plan … what about the current state of affairs? Who will be in the Dept in 10 years? Don’t know who’s going to be there on Monday… great answer to the staffing issue they’ve hired 4 more people for Educator Development. What about the 14 vacancies that remain? Student Educator Ratio is quite misleading… it’s just an arbitrary number that the Dept extrapolates. Schools do not properly report their attendance and this is for a number of reasons. Primarily, the system they use sucks… Maplewood.

  6. Posted by Umiliviniq on

    Surely the DM of the Department of Education should have been the person facing the Standing Committee on Oversight of Government Operations and Public Accounts!

    This was an important Report by the Auditor-General. Either the DM was once again not up to speed with the transfer back to the Department of Education or the lack of proper advice from Department Officials made the DM’s non appearance appear disrespectful.


  7. Posted by Putuguk on

    It is a sad fact that our elders constantly advise us to do basic things that seem just too simple for people to comprehend and follow. One of the main things we are told is that people should be working together.

    There may be only a few guidance counselors out there in Nunavut, and it could be very important to have more of them, or at least retain the ones we have.

    We forget that there are career development officers in family services, Inuit organizations have career services staff, and ED&T has mineral advisers. These people can and do so much to steer young adults onto how to get their post high school life going.

    If the schools can open their doors and work with these people more fully without tripping over the Education Partner Support Division, things would be much better without the lack of resources for guidance counselors being as big of an issue.

  8. Posted by Frontiers on

    Tough world, eh?

    Perhaps an honest to goodness community consultations be convened among the educators, parents, politicians, and students to identify the problem and find ways how to resolve it?

    • Posted by Dead End on

      Do you really think that would solve anything? How many “community consultations” have we been subjected too over countless issues and for what? This idea that there is some magic in asking the ‘volk’ is one of our great popular illusions.

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