Nunavut’s Education Department suffers from a people problem

“The Department of Education’s biggest problem right now has nothing to do with legislation”

Opening day at Aqsarniit Middle School in Iqaluit more than 10 years ago. This week the Nunavut government will table its latest attempt to amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act. (File photo)

By Jim Bell

The Government of Nunavut will likely introduce Bill 25 in the legislative assembly this week.

The bill will most probably resemble the GN’s last attempt to change the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act. That one fizzled in the spring of 2017, when, after large expenditures of time, energy and money, regular MLAs simply refused to debate the GN’s proposals.

Will the second attempt succeed? Maybe, maybe not. But you know what? Set against the biggest issue the GN faces in education, it may not even matter.

That’s because the Department of Education’s biggest problem right now has nothing to do with legislation. Its biggest problem is a human resource issue and a training issue. To some extent, it’s also a budget issue.

That is the long-standing shortage of Inuit-language teachers in Nunavut, coupled with continuing uncertainty about the health of the Nunavut Arctic College program that is supposed to train such teachers: the Nunavut Teacher Education Program.

In simple terms, it’s a people problem. And until that people problem is addressed, it won’t matter what either the Education Act or the Inuit Language Protection Act end up saying about education in the Inuit language.

The current version of the Education Act, which came into effect in 2008, contained a schedule for introducing bilingual English-Inuktut instruction by 2019, from kindergarten to Grade 12, in all Nunavut schools.

Those language of instruction measures were dead on arrival. For those who hadn’t already figured this out for themselves, the Auditor General of Canada’s 2013 report providing damning confirmation.

The main reason for this failure, of course, is that the Department of Education is not even close to being able to employ sufficient numbers of Inuit-language teachers. The leads to a self-perpetuating downward spiral.

“The lack of bilingual teachers will affect the department’s capacity to produce bilingual graduates who could continue their education and qualify as bilingual teachers,” the auditor general said.

One reason for that, of course, is that the Nunavut Teacher Education Program does not produce enough fully bilingual graduates to meet the Department of Education’s needs.

The incapacities of NTEP are no secret. As far back as 2012, some MLAs and mayors were complaining that some of its graduates were not qualified for teaching jobs, while some who were able to get jobs were quitting or getting dismissed.

Where’s the NTEP review?

A few years later, in early 2017, Paul Quassa, then the minister of education, said some graduates of NTEP prefer to teach in English. For that, and other reasons, he promised the GN would do a “review” of NTEP.

So what did that review say? We don’t know. In March of 2017, the GN hired a firm to do that review of NTEP. Quassa, still serving as minister, promised the work would be done by June of that year.

But if the NTEP review report has indeed been completed, the GN has not made it public. We’re still waiting for it. Significantly, few, if any MLAs have bothered to ask about it.

Meanwhile, the current minister of education, David Joanasie, bragged last November that a record number of people are enrolled this year in the NTEP program: 93 people, 90 of whom are Nunavut Inuit. They’re scattered around nine communities and studying at various levels, with 23 expected to graduate this year.

On the surface that looks like a mildly encouraging development. But no one knows how many of those participants will make it to the end.

And of those who graduate, no one knows how many will stay in the teaching profession. The employment rolls of multiple Inuit organizations and government departments are filled with the names of former Inuit teachers who were educated at the government’s expense and then moved on to other jobs.

According to a spreadsheet that Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. helpfully included in its recent research paper, titled “Is Nunavut education criminally inadequate?” the current Nunavut teacher employment numbers are rather less than encouraging.

As of last November, the Department of Education employed 610 teachers. Of those, 429 were non-Inuit and 181 were Inuit. Among those in positions of authority, the numbers get even worse. A total of 36 principals were non-Inuit and only seven were Inuit, while 28 vice-principals were non-Inuit and only four were Inuit.

Don’t forget: the NTEP program is designed to train people capable of teaching up to about Grade 6 only. For Grade 7 to Grade 12, there isn’t and never has been any identifiable program or strategy set up to train people who are able to use Inuktut as a language of instruction in those grades.

Unrealistic provisions

No such program existed in 2008, when MLAs passed an Education Act that said “bilingual education” for those grades was to have been phased in between 2016-17 and 2019-20. Those who believed in that possibility were either lying to themselves and to the public, or they were seriously deluded, or they just didn’t care.

That’s why we said earlier that the 2008 act was dead on arrival. It contained unrealistic provisions that were impossible to implement.

So it’s understandable that leaders with organizations such as Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., and many other observers, are enraged by the GN’s failures.

“Inuit children receive the majority of their education in the dominant languages instead of their mother tongue. This constitutes cultural genocide,” Aluki Kotierk, the president of NTI, said last month in a statement.

But at the same time, members of the Nunavut legislature can’t afford to indulge in another exercise in unreality. As in 2017, they will be presented with a bill in which a schedule for introducing Inuktut as a language of instruction is tied to the GN’s capacity to offer it.

“Timelines for implementation would be tied to targets outlined in the Department of Education’s Inuit Employment Plan,” the GN said in a recent information brochure.

In other words, it will occur when the Department of Education solves its people problem.

This is a difficult, complex subject and this 1,000-word editorial barely scratches its surface. But this time around, MLAs would be well-advised to hold their noses and vote in favour of Bill 25.

And while they’re at it, they might also want to think about asking a question or two on that review of NTEP. JB

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(15) Comments:

  1. Posted by EDUCATION’s Taught in Rural School’s on

    What is quality Education? If teachers hired to work and teach quality learning lessons to students! Provide EDUCATION not programs that are NOT relevant to student’s LEARNING. If curriculum program’s are NOT relevant to preparation to POST-SECONDARY taught in Classes; review and approach. If teacher cannot provide quality EDUCATION LESSON’S approach and review teaching ethics. There is stage process how to be a teacher and pretend to teach on regular basis in rural school’s. It can be a habit! Lesson’s learn!?!

  2. Posted by time to wake up on

    People have to ask themselves who actually WANTS to be an Inuktitut teacher. If we ignore what the keyboard warriors say, being a teacher is a stressful job. I’m happy that I didn’t become one but I respect those who have. Good teachers constantly stress about the wellbeing of their students and are constantly being monitored by the kids’ parents.

    Iqaluit and the bigger centers will never attract new qualified Inuktitut language teachers while there are so many desk job that pay a similar wage. There are a few individuals who are passionate about Inukitut teaching, but most new teachers will be shocked by the distinction of the Inuktitut stream and teaching in general, and they’ll start job surfing for cushy “Project Officer” jobs that pay the same. And I don’t blame those individuals one bit! Being young, bilingual and motivated is all you need to get a good job in Nunavut. It’s funny but sad to hear the Inuit orgs chastise the GN about Inuktitut education when they’ve been known to poach talented teachers from time to time to work for them.

    The only way to stock up the cupboards with young motivated inuktitut teachers is to up the salary significantly. If you think Inuktitut education is important, then it’s the right thing to do. 1 strong Inuktitut teacher making 150k is worth much more than 2 weak ones who make 100k each. There are plenty of talented individuals working cushy desk jobs who would “suddenly” be interested in teaching if the salary doubled. Their passion might suddenly reappear. And if you create some competition for those high paying positions, then the schools might even be able to let go of their weakest teachers who barely teach, instead of groveling to them.

    Another idea is to put some of the non-Inuktitut speaking teachers (those who are dedicated) in intensive Inuktitut course. No, they won’t be fluent, but at the elementary level basic Inuktitut conversation and activities will always be better than doing endless crossword puzzles.

    Or you can keep the status quo and continue being irrelevant, and the students in the Inuktitut stream will continue falling behind.

    • Posted by Brad Chambers on

      I like the idea of inuktitut training for non-Inuit. It is of course no replacement for Inuit employement, but rather an enhancement. It does many things:
      -improves the teachers connection to the students and respect and trust for the teacher.
      -allows the teacher to be more aware of what is going on – students can and do tease or bully each other right in front of teachers who don’t know what they are saying.
      -it connects teachers better to the culture and the community which does 2 things – it makes them better teachers, and it makes them more likely to stay longer. A better, more engaged, more experienced and more community-embedded teacher is a huge plus.
      -it supports the transition to Inuktitut being the working language in general: move to Nunavut, learn Inuktitut.

    • Posted by MONICA A CONNOLLY on

      You want someone really qualified in English to teach English in Ontario’s secondary schools. You do NOT need to have an English degree or even speak English as a first language to teach other subjects – you need to be knowledgeable in the subject you teach, and read, speak and write English fairly well. I have seen many a secondary teacher over the years teaching with a noticeable foreign accent. The same should be the case in Nunavut. By all means set up intensive Inuktitut courses for non-Inuit teachers, at the same time providing technical terms in Inuktitut for the different subject areas, and Inuktitut secondary learning materials.

  3. Posted by Commentator 99 on

    Jim is perfectly right. The Education Act has been a 10 year diversion from the real issues – how do we get the right people into classrooms to teach our children, and how can our children learn well and happily.

    Jim’s solution – to hold our noses and support any new Act – would have the effect of taking legislation off the table as an issue (good), but it would also deliver a huge amount more authority right into the hands of the people who got us into this problem (bad), haven’t solved this problem (very bad) and haven’t admitted there is a problem or a time frame needed to fix that problem (super bad if you want to solve a problem).

    Hard decisions ahead: reward the incompetent deniers with more authority OR drag out a dispute that nobody is likely to win.

  4. Posted by Goals on

    If it’s a cultural genocide, it’s one that is led by Inuit. If inuktitut speakers don’t want to be teachers, and kids don’t want to go to school in any language, and parents don’t make them go (kids everywhere resist school, trust me), the problems might originate from inside the community and culture. Constantly blaming it on outsiders as a “genocide” might not be the answer.

    Sometimes it’s just time to accept the fact that the people don’t actually want what they are supposed to want. If people really wanted inuktitut education, they would have had it years ago.

  5. Posted by Bert Rose on

    In 2017, as a former Nunavut educator at the classroom, administration and college levels I engaged in a discussion via email with the firm doing the review exercise on designing a new model of the Teacher Training program for Nunavut Teachers/
    The sequences of responses are interesting
    June 11, 2017
    “No, we are still in the thick of the review and do not think we will finish until summer’s end. ”
    September 19, 2017
    “As you likely know, we conducted many more interviews than envisioned. As a consequence we did not meet the August date that we had anticipated. However, the report is mostly completed. We need to tidy up the recommendations and, then, submit”
    September 27,2017
    “I do not think the teacher shortage is a reflection on recruitment. British Columbia hired 3600 teachers as a consequence of the restoration of teaching positions removed from the BCTF’s collective agreement in 2001. There were challenges in all BC school boards to find teachers to meet the commitment”

    The rest is silence.

  6. Posted by Sled dog on

    Great article. If the Education Act was DOA on arrival, simply replacing the words Education Act with section 23 of the NCLA and you will hit another home run.

  7. Posted by All GN Departments suffer from people problems on

    “Nunavut’s Education Department suffers from a people problem”
    “All GN Departments suffer from people problems”
    There, fixed the headline for you.
    The GN does financial budgeting every year. The process involves deciding how to spend the expected amount of money.
    The GN needs to do people budgeting each year, too.
    That process would look at the current and expected available Inuit and decide where best to utilize them.
    It would recognize how many would be graduating from university, how many would be entering the work force after completing high school, and how many would not have completed high school, but be interested in working.
    It would also recognize that half of every group is of above average intelligence, while the other half is of below average intelligence, and plan ways to use everyone’s abilities.
    Instead, we mostly see job postings with requirements that very few Inuit are able to meet.
    The job functions need to be arranged into positions that the available people can readily be trained to do.
    Perhaps then the GN will stop poaching teachers to fill other GN jobs.
    If NTI executives were serious about the priority of education, they would apply for teaching positions. Actions speak louder than words.

    • Posted by Look around on

      Have you noticed the kitchen and housekeeper at the hospital are very few Inuit? I was there for a week and only Inuks I saw was interpreter and cafe cashier. These are good paying jobs that don’t need lots of schooling why can’t Inuit get hired?

  8. Posted by Hmmmmm on

    There are currently at least 48 teaching positions in Nunavut that have not been filled yet for the 2019 fall school year. The language of instruction becomes a non-issue if there is no instruction to begin with. The wages in the nwt are significantly higher than in Nunavut and they provide support for first year teachers and training and support to retain the longer term employees. What a refreshing approach. Stop trying to be everything to everyone. Stop teaching past grade 9 unless the parents and teachers support a continuation. Centralize academic programing for families that want it for their children and move students out of the system who do not attend. Force The RSO’s , the RIA’s and the upper management of NAC into the classrooms to teach when teachers cannot be found. Ntep might be way more useful if it was realistic. And maybe, just maybe, appreciate those long term teachers of all races and creeds who have dedicated their work life to Nunavut. You are important too and some of us do notice your efforts. Thank you.

  9. Posted by Designed to Fail on

    We will never get a comprehensive Inuktut curriculum under the current system. Never.

    The current system is designed to fail.

    Consider that recently an IDEA member publicly spoke out against mandatory Inuktut classes in grade 10. No big deal right? Not until you star connecting some dots.

    Who is the DM of Finance?

    What does the Inuit leadership of the Department of Finance look like?

    Which Department has the most say over the functioning of Government and Government programming?

    Whatever happened to the NILFA report? It just sort of came and went, didn’t it?

    Why was the Principal of a certain school in Iqaluit allowed to remain in his job after explicitly mocking Inuit culture?

    Why are we spending more money than ever before, but nothing seems to be improving for most of us?

    The GN appears to be fully focused on formal processes like communications, reports, “deliverables”, and glossy posters and videos.

    Meanwhile more housing, an Inuktut curriculum, better healthcare, and all the other things the majority want are afterthoughts. We’ll conduct a consultation then hire someone to write a report that will be tabled in the Leg 6 months late and then no one will even remember it. All the while, the real decisions are made behind closed doors in Iqaluit.

    Some people think Iqaluit is broken. Others think it’s working just the way it should.

  10. Posted by Putuguk on

    There are some things that could improve this situation that are not part of the current conversation here in Nunavut.

    Education in Nunavut is currently seen as a take it or leave it proposition. Either dropping out or public school are the two choices being made by pretty well everyone. We are not looking at other options.

    If there are Inuit parents taking the home school option, it is not readily apparent. I wonder whether this is part of the solution to the lack of Inuktun language instruction. Perhaps there should be a big movement to provide Inuktun resources and encouragement for parents to home school with the support of family elders as a viable option to a failed system that is not meeting our needs.

    The other thing we do not see on the table is separate schools. It has worked very well for french in Canada and indeed in Iqaluit. The french have been at this task for literally centuries and we ought to learn from them. We have the right to separate, protestant, Inuktun schools in Nunavut. Again, perhaps part of the solution is to offer parents and students the choice of sending our kids to a school that is more aligned with what we want to see. Protestant Inuit clergy, parishes and local auxiliaries are already a core strength of Inuktun capacity since the days of bible translation. Surely a separate school operated specifically for this reason could do a better job than the public schools that are run by southern hired officials that do not share our values.

    And finally, for historic and political reasons we are ignoring a big lesson from the past. Residential schools were built because the government did not have the capacity to deliver education in each and every hunting camp. We face the same challenge today for Inuktun. Perhaps one of our schools should be made into a charter school where Inuktun resources are concentrated and this is the focus. A residence can be built in that community. Students can be streamed there from across Nunavut. Cadres of graduates from such a school will form the basis for increased Inuktun capacity. They will already be networked together. We come close to using this model at the Clyde River cultural school and at NS. Maybe we need to hold our noses, accept a pragmatic approach, and see that we need this for secondary schools as well.

    • Posted by Oh come on on

      From what I’ve seen in communities, the parents who are motivated to see their kids get an education are making sure the kids go to school, or at least doing their best. You really think the ones who apparently could not care less about whether their kids are in school, or are struggling with their own problems, or have their own educational issues, are going to be able to do home schooling? Really?

  11. Posted by Standardize the language on

    Paul Quassa, when he was Minister of Ed made a push to establish a standardized Inuktut language; unfortunately not enough of his colleagues were willing to support the initiative; until this is done and clear standards and expectations for the language are established- how can you ever expect to achieve a fully bilingual system; there has been a great deal of effort to create curriculum in Inuktitut and much has been achieved but then it has to be adapted to each regional or even community local dialect; that is not sustainable… listen to Quassa on this- move it forward and get it done..or in 20 years nothing will have improved. Equally important- it has been said many times before- get the children to schools, fed and rested… with the best teachers that you can hire….get rid of any/all weak teachers – don’t keep them in the classroom- damages the education of too many students.

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