Education tops Nunavut election issues

At least a dozen Nunavut election candidates cite "social promotion" as one of the major issues the territory is facing today.
The high school in Arviat. School attendance in Nunavut is now at 70 per cent. (Vincent Desrosiers/CBC)

Anne Crawford has been going door-to-door in her constituency of Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu. On her blog, she describes education as “way, way out in front as the major issue of this campaign.”

She says voters “are adamant that our children should be challenged and given accurate grades and grading.”

She’s also spoken to people “despairing over their own children who have graduated with inadequate skills, who have not been able to continue studies due to failing entrance exams.”

Concerns about “social promotion,” or kids moving up a grade even when they haven’t mastered the skills, are far and wide in Nunavut.

“Things have improved quite a bit in the last three years with the graduates,” says Uqqummiut candidate NioreIqalukjuak, “because they could hardly write for a while, even though they were graduates.”

Iqalukjuak is just one of many who’d like to see more emphasis on quality in education. The CBC has spoken to over a dozen candidates who raised the issue directly.

"When my kids go to school in Iqaluit, they always lower their grades and that makes me wonder why.”- Sakiasie Sowdlooapik, Pangnirtung candidate

“If you want to get into Nunavut Arctic College programs, you have to do a foundation year,” says PatterkNetser, a candidate in Iqaluit-Tasiluk. “Why can’t our education system do that for them? It’s a waste of money and cumbersome to the students.”

Pangnirtung candidate SakiasieSowdlooapik has worked with the local district education authority for a long time. He says Pangnirtung is lucky to have excellent teachers, excellent staff and excellent board oversight. But, he says, “we need more government supports.”

“What I have seen,” Sowdlooapik says, “is when my kids go to school in Iqaluit, they always lower their grades and that makes me wonder why.”

AiroPameolik is running in Arviat South. He says it’s good news that more and more kids are graduating, “but then when they try to go on to higher education, we hear reports all the time that they don’t qualify. I think the system is failing them… so a lot of them go back home, no jobs, nowhere to turn, nothing to do, and that’s what causes a lot of our kids to get in trouble and do nothing.”

Pameolik says the solution is to teach kids to the same standard that’s being taught down South.

Tom Sammurtok, running in Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet, says that's one way to see more students go on to higher education. "I would like to see them go to university on day one, rather than having to go back and take upgrading."

Iqaluit-Manirajaq candidate PaulieSammurtok is a stay-at-home grandpa, looking after two boys ages 6 and 11. He also wants to see kids passing their grades properly and not just being promoted because of their age.

“I think it’s important that there be some services included,” he says, “like tutoring services that could help bring up the grades in the students because some of them are not at grade level and I think that’s actually hurting children who go to school every day and think they’re in whatever grade when they’re really not.”

Languages, post-secondary support also issues

Vvoters are also passionate about languages in school (Inuktitut, English and French). That includes a lack of Inuktitut courses in higher grades, as well as limited access to French education, particularly in Iqaluit. 

There are also concerns that students don’t receive enough support for post-secondary education. That’s one of the issues former premier Paul Okalik says he’ll work on. “I do have some experience in that area.”

Some candidates also want to make sure Nunavut schools provide an education that includes Inuit tradition and culture.

At age 30, David Joanasie is the youngest candidate in this election, running in South Baffin.

“I’ve seen the value of academics and formal education,” he says, “and we do need to be proficient in the system that has been developed today.”

But Joanasie says it’s also important for young people to be grounded in Inuit language and culture, “for our cultural pride and our way of life.”



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