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21 Nunavut women graduate with UPEI education degrees

Three years of study paid off for 21 Inuit women on Wednesday, when they became the first to receive masters of education degrees under a unique Nunavut-based program set up by the University of Prince Edward Island.

Three years of study paid off for 21 Inuit women on Wednesday, when they became the first to receive masters of education degrees under a unique Nunavut-based program set up by the University of Prince Edward Island.

More than 150 people attended the graduation ceremony Wednesday at Nakashuk School in Iqaluit, celebrating the first graduating class from the first graduate-level program ever to be offered in the northern territory.

The University of P.E.I. offered the three-year program to begin staffing principals' and vice-principals' offices across the territory with Inuit educators who come from the same communities they work in.

One of the graduates, Saa Pitseolak, said she wants to make school an inviting place that is built by Inuit for Inuit.

Pitseolak, who is originally from Kimmirut, said her formal schooling experience was "a very different world" from her upbringing in the Baffin Island community.

Most principals still brought up north

Although there are more than 100 Inuit teachers with undergraduate degrees now teaching in Nunavut, the majority of vice-principals and principals still come from the south.

"We can't create a school system that really reflects the parents, communities and students of Nunavut without Inuit leaders," said Cathy McGregor, director of curriculum and school services with the territory's Education Department.

McGregor, who helped coordinate the UPEI program from the beginning, said the new graduates will take on a variety of leadership roles in the territory's education system.

"In order to make sure that the school system reflects Inuit values, Inuit perspectives, with the way Inuit teach, the way Inuit expect people to relate to each other, you have to have Inuit leaders in the schools," she said.

New Education Act enacted

Wednesday's ceremony fell on the same day that Nunavut's revamped, homegrown Education Act came into force.

Nunavut's previous education laws were carried over from the Northwest Territories, which Nunavut was a part of until it became its own territory in 1999.

The new Education Act puts more emphasis on teaching Inuit culture and language in public schools across the territory.

The UPEI graduates will also try to turn more high school dropouts into graduates. Little more than 30 per cent of students completed Grade 12 in the 2007-08 school year — a graduate rate that lags behind the rest of Canada.

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