Aurora College's teacher, social worker programs targeted by budget cuts

The Northwest Territories government wants to cut funding to Aurora College by $1.9 million, and part of that is the winding down of programs to develop locally educated teachers and social workers.

Cutting programs to develop locally-educated teachers and social workers 'a step backward,' says former ADM

Jacqueline Hunt-Cornock, right) says she enrolled at Aurora College to stay in the North. Now, she risks facing her program being cut. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

A big backlash is developing to one of the cuts proposed in the budget the Northwest Territories government released this week.

The government wants to cut funding to Aurora College by $1.9 million, and part of that is the winding down of programs to develop locally-educated teachers and social workers.

Though people already enrolled in the four-year bachelor of education program and the two-year social worker program will be allowed to complete the program at Aurora College, no new students will be allowed in.

"It was really a tough day for all of us," said Justina Black, a first-year student in the education program.

'We're not going to let this happen'

Black said students and instructors were caught off guard by an email they received Thursday afternoon.

"We all gathered in a room, staff and students. There were definitely tears, but we're not going to let this happen. We're already taking action to see what we can do to get this changed."

Black was handing out flyers in Fort Smith to notify people there of the cuts and recruit their support for a protest planned for Saturday.

The education program is delivered from Aurora College's Fort Smith campus. The social worker program is delivered in Yellowknife.

In Yellowknife, students enrolled in a year-long upgrading course to prepare them for the social worker program were also shedding tears when they found out the program is not going to be available.

"When we found out we were shocked," said Danielle Judas. "Everyone was crying."

The students went to the legislature to drop of a letter expressing their opposition to the changes, then went to the CBC station to let the public know.

"We were all doing this so we could work in our communities, so we could better our communities," said Jacqueline Hunt-Cornock.

"Most of us don't want to go down south, that's why we were going to Aurora College."

Part of government's cost-cutting

Aurora College president said the programs were cut as part of the government-wide cost cutting in this budget.

"Every department has been tasked to identify expenditure reductions," said Jane Arychuk.

Education Minister Alfred Moses said the decision to cut the programs was made by the college's board of governors. He said the government asked the college to identify efficiencies in their operations and they responded by cancelling the two programs.

Moses said the programs are being cut because enrolment and completion rates are low in both programs. There are currently 29 students in the bachelor of education program and 30 students in the social worker program.

'A step backward'

Pauline Gordon, a former teacher and assistant deputy minister in the N.W.T. education department, says the decision to end the teacher education program is "a step backward."

"I think our northern teachers have really made a difference in ensuring that our land-based lifestyles and subsistence harvesting are there and are used as teaching methodologies for our kids."

Gordon said teachers who are born and raised in northern communities are also more aware of community and family dynamics that play a part in a child's education.

She said another benefit of both programs was the reduced turnover among teachers.

"I'm just scared," Gordon said. "I just feel so strongly that our northern schools are going to lose."