Made-in-Nunavut curriculum shouldn't have been phased out, says retired educator

Shirley Tagalik spent 10 years working 'flat out' with a team of educators developing made-in-Nunavut classroom materials, much of which is no longer in use.

Shirley Tagalik says many traditional-knowledge-based education materials are no longer used

Drum dancing in the classroom. Nunavut's focus on test scores runs counter to traditional practices, says a former curriculum designer. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Nunavut's focus on test scores runs counter to traditional practices, says a former curriculum designer.

Shirley Tagalik spent 10 years as a manager in the territory's curriculum and schools services division, working "flat out" with her team in Arviat developing made-in-Nunavut materials.

She retired from the role and now she says, much of what her team created isn't used, despite it being, she says, a better direction for the territory. 
Shirley Tagalik was a manager of the curriculum and school services branch of the Department of Education for 10 years. (Submitted by Shirley Tagalik)

Tagalik says she doesn't know why made-in-Nunavut materials would be passed over for curriculum from other provinces and territories.

The curriculum, classroom resources and foundational documents developed in Arviat were based on Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit and competency, instead of fixed outcomes measured by test scores, or outcome-based learning.

Outcome-based learning dictates that "the student will know such-and-such" by the end of a course, which Tagalik says they can demonstrate by earning 50 per cent or higher on a test.

But, she says, she heard that wasn't sufficient in education consultations with Inuit elders, offering an example: "If I built an igloo successfully only 50 per cent of the time, I died."

So her work moved the system to competency-based learning, which required students to be able to take what they've learned and apply it in a real-world situation.

Tagalik says many jurisdictions around the world were moving to competency-based programs.

"We weren't out of step with what was happening, but it definitely was a departure from what had been used and what continues to be used in jurisdictions such as Alberta."

But John Macdonald, assistant deputy minister of education, says it doesn't have to be one or the other, Nunavut can work towards measuring comprehension in an outcome-based system. 
John Macdonald, assistant deputy minister with Nunavut's Department of Education, says the territory is developing a new website to outline the curriculum. (CBC)

He says the documents Tagalik created to guide a curriculum based on Inuit traditional knowledge are still used, but that education is an ever-evolving process.

"Priorities shift and not every project comes to fruition," he said. "When you design something and then go out and field test it, it doesn't always work."

This happens more frequently with books and videos suggested for classrooms, and less often with the higher level curriculum documents, he said, so some units, like one that focuses on traditional families in the early grades are still taught, though the reading material may have changed.  

Inuktitut curriculum developed in Nunavut 

Inuktitut and high school social studies are being developed to be Nunavut-specific because Tagalik and Macdonald agree pulling from elsewhere won't work in those cases.

But to save time and money, the rest of Nunavut's curriculum is adapted from other jurisdictions such as the Northwest Territories and Alberta.

Macdonald says all four western provinces and all three territories' ministries of education work collaboratively to develop high-level learning objectives, which are often outcome-based.

"What that participation provided Nunavut was the opportunity to work with jurisdictions with 100-person staffs and access to research."

Then, he says, Nunavut can build Inuit perspective onto the latest education theory.

Currently, Alberta is totally revamping its curriculum and Nunavut's Department of Education staff is participating in the process to ensure northern and Inuit perspectives are embedded in the work from the beginning.

"There's not just one way to develop a curriculum," Macdonald said.

With files from Kieran Oudshoorn