George Hickes

George Hickes, MLA for Iqaluit-Tasiluk, chaired the special committee that looked into the 2008 Education Act. (CBC)

The first review of the 2008 made-in-Nunavut Education Act has led to some dramatic recommendations, including shifting the emphasis from Inuit language and culture to a standardized education system, and changing the way schools deal with non-attenders.

Nunavut's education system has fallen far short of the act's goals, the review notes, adding that an "overly ambitious agenda" is partly to blame.

A committee of five, chaired by Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes, recommends focusing that ambition in order to meet one goal: providing consistent, standardized programming to all students, from pre-schoolers to high school graduates.  

"We need to look at standardizing a lot of facets of the education system," Hickes says, "to be able to take a student from one community and put them in another community and have the same level of education."

To focus that goal, the committee recommends moving to a single, standardized model for Inuit language instruction, instead of letting communities choose between three different approaches.

The committee also recommends deleting vague references to Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit from the legislation, and instead incorporating Inuit values as a core program or subject within the curriculum. And it supports the moves, within the education department and at the national level, towards a standardized Inuit language writing system.

It also suggests shifting the deadline for delivery of bilingual education in the territory from 2020 to something more realistic, stating that the current goal is "unattainable" and adding that it's not clear how the date was ever determined.

Different supports for non-attenders

The review also looked at social promotion, the controversial practice of keeping children with their age-appropriate grade, even when they haven't mastered the skills. The education department links this to inclusive education - a policy that aims to meet students special learning needs, but which then requires teachers to meet multiple learning needs in the classroom.

"This puts a tremendous burden on teachers," the review says, "especially in cases where educators have not received specific training in this area."

The committee also acknowledges the "very limited" number of people of specialized professionals able to support students who need special services, such as psychologists and mental health workers.

But instead of a call for more resources, the committee suggests limiting who's "entitled" to individual student support plans — the framework that allows students to move up grades while working at their own pace. 

It suggests withdrawing student support plans entirely from students who are behind because they're not coming to school, "in the interest of ensuring the most effective and efficient use of resources."

Without making any specific recommendations, the committee says "alternative options" should be considered for "remediation, retention and promotion" of children who have not been going to school. 

Reconsidering DEAs

The review committee also appears to want to revoke some of the powers the Education Act devolved to community-based school boards.

The review notes that while some district education authorities are capable of meeting expectations, "the majority are not." It then recommends coming up with a standard set of duties that reflect the "common capacity" of the DEAs.

The committee also calls for more clarity on the role of the Coalition of DEAs, which it says needs to be "redefined."

It's recommending a comprehensive review of the DEAs.

Early childhood education

The report also recommends making sure communities have the resources and training to run early childhood education in every Nunavut community and exploring options for full-day kindergarten.