Education Minister Jackson Lafferty released a flood of documents in the legislature last week to introduce its “education renewal and innovation framework,” which is expected to lead to massive changes in the way students learn in the Northwest Territories. 

Students and elders from across the territory helped draft the framework. It outlines nine commitments department officials say they plan to make over the next ten years. The department says to be successful, communities and school life need to be combined. And it says it must continue to work closely with Aboriginal governments.

The documents are frank in describing the current realities of the the N.W.T. education system.

Change is needed, the government says, because of an urgent need to get more kids going to school and learning while they are there. In 2012, attendance was 84 per cent on average and even lower in the N.W.T.’s smaller communities. Education officials say many students feel they don’t belong.

The department is promising to consider all options that are supported by evidence. That could include things like flexible school schedules, including changes to school days and years. Or it could include more choices for high school students, and different ways to graduate.

Parents won't notice any immediate changes. But Minister Jackson Lafferty says parents are invited to be a part of the process, saying doors will be opened for parents to take an active role. 

Teaching teachers about the North

Teachers are a key part of the strategy. The government has committed to making sure they have the chance to learn about northern values.

The Tlicho Community Services Agency is already working on that. Ted Blondin is the group’s chair.

"We're trying to build an orientation program so our teachers can really understand the pulse of each of our communities so that they could really provide a quality education to our students that they deserve."

Plans will also address the issue of social passing, the practise of moving kids up a grade when they haven’t mastered the skills. Working below grade level is a consequence of poor attendance, the government says. It also says that neither social passing or holding kids back is a good solution.

Other change will acknowledge the reality of how students learn, the need for early childhood education, new technology, and the need to prepare students for today’s workplaces.

The changes come at a time when Alberta is also renovating the way it teaches students. That province is also moving away from the traditional classroom teaching and testing model, and towards a more flexible “student interest driven” model. The N.W.T. relies heavily on Alberta tests to evaluate students, and may also take a lead from changes the province makes first.

The N.W.T’s education department and the school boards will develop a multi year action plan from the framework over the next several months.  

Officials hope the new structure will add to the schools’ presence within the community, and help bridge the gap left behind by the Residential School era.