Ottawa school board to boost Inuktitut language learning
Ottawa-Carleton District School Board working to offer Inuktitut at secondary schools next year
Ottawa students hoping to study a second language in high school may soon get the opportunity to learn Inuktitut.
On Sept. 29, the Ontario Ministry of Education announced $23.96 million from the Priorities and Partnerships Fund will go towards expanding Indigenous content and learning in the province’s curriculums.
The funding will help boost efforts to offer Inuktitut as an elective language course in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, said Shannon Smith, a superintendent of instruction with the board whose portfolio also covers Indigenous education equity.
“It’s an important announcement because it provides us with the course codes for Inuktitut language instruction so that students can receive credit,” Smith said. She explained these courses would be open to any students wishing to study another language in high school.
“Probably towards the spring [is] when we’re looking at operationalizing that for the next year,” she said.
Classes in various Indigenous languages are currently offered through the board’s continuing education department in its international and Indigenous languages program. However, this year, the only Indigenous language on offer is Cree, said Smith, after an Inuktitut class fell through when the instructor could no longer teach it.
“It really is a matter of finding teachers and instructors for the programs,” Smith said. “In the past, one of the challenges was to find a speaker of a particular Indigenous language within your own community, so we’re certainly broadening our efforts and looking at leveraging that virtual learning environment wherever possible,” she said, explaining that remote learning in the pandemic offered new venues for sources instructors.
Smith said that efforts to introduce more language-learning opportunities for students is part of a broader educational initiative to better understand the “deep connection between Indigenous culture and Indigenous language,” she said. “As more people spend time with the [Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s] calls to action… I think that the demand will continue to build.”
“What we’re looking for is expanding opportunities and connecting students with Indigenous language speakers,” Smith added. “Ottawa has a very high number of Inuit residents who are here for a variety of reasons and certainly within our schools, so, that’s a clear area of focus for us.”
The ministry also announced that mandatory Indigenous-focused learning will be added to social studies classes in grades 1-3 starting in Sept. 2023, including lessons on Indigenous historical and contemporary realities and the residential school system. Currently, Indigenous issues are part of the curriculum in Grades 4-8 and 10, including mandatory learning on residential schools in Grades 8 and 10, introduced in 2018.