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COVID-19 creating education gaps between Nunavut students

Educators in Nunavut say the COVID-19 pandemic is creating an education gap between students who face barriers to completing school work from home after all schools in the territory closed in March due to health concerns.

'There's no great solution where learning is going to be improved during a pandemic,' says NTA president

Educators in the territory say barriers for some students to do their school work from home has forced their educations to go on pause while schools are closed due to COVID-19. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Educators in Nunavut say the COVID-19 pandemic is creating an education gap between students who face barriers to completing school work from home. 

On March 17 all schools in the territory closed due to concerns about COVID-19. All school work after this date is not being assessed for final report cards, according to the territory's Department of Education. 

However, to continue learning, students have been given packages of course work to complete their classes for the school year. But it doesn't mean all students will be able to complete them.

"We [have to] be honest," said John Fanjoy, president of the Nunavut Teachers' Association. "It's going to greatly impact how all students move forward and it's going to impact how some students move forward more than others based on their socio-economic conditions."

John Fanjoy is the president of the Nunavut Teachers' Association. (Submitted)

Students who don't have access to internet or computers can pick up paper learning packages. But Fanjoy says students with specific learning needs, those who live in overcrowded housing and students that suffer from food insecurity will be most affected. 

"There's no great solution where learning is going to be improved during a pandemic," said Fanjoy. 

Right now, Fanjoy says teachers are putting together large volumes of work for the learning packages that many teachers will never see again, creating a system where teachers are not able to teach new concepts for students to build on. 

"We do have to look at a system moving forward for the beginning of the next school year where those students can be better supported if we're not back in a regular classroom setting," said Fanjoy. 

Some students without internet

Fanjoy says the only way for teachers to teach their students new concepts is to be available to their students. That may need to be electronically if schools need to shut down again next school year because of COVID-19. 

"We know a lot of our students don't have access to that [computers or the internet] in their homes so we have to find a way to be able to provide them with that access," said Fanjoy. 

Iqaluit District Education Authority Chairperson Doug Workman says many students have not come to pick up learning packages. (Travis Burke/CBC)

The chairperson for the Iqaluit District Education Authority, Doug Workman, says they estimate between 100 and 150 of the high school students don't have access to the internet or a computer. 

Workman says this is a problem for high school students who are learning more advanced concepts and may need the internet or one-on-one help from a teacher.

On top of this barrier, Workman says, because the learning packages aren't being assessed, some students aren't motivated to do it.

"So consequently we're seeing very few students actually picking up the hardback work," said Workman. 

Inuksuk High School is on a semester-based system, meaning students have only been taught half of the course work. 

"There's a lot of work that's been missed and you can't ... spend half the term or half the semester reviewing what should have been taught in the last semester," said Workman. 

Right now it's unclear what schooling in Nunavut will look like in September. Restrictions put in place due to COVID-19 have started to open up this week but schools will remain closed for this school year.

Minister of Education David Joanasie says the department is working on different scenarios for the next school year. (Beth Brown/CBC)

Workman says his district education authority is looking to the Department of Education for leadership on how to make learning a more even playing field for students moving forward. 

"We really need more than words," said Workman. "We need resources and we need really good solid ideas that can be implemented."

Minister of Education David Joanasie says the department is working on different scenarios for the next school year on how schools will function if COVID-19 shows up in a community. But right now they don't have any sort of document to show the public. 

Joanasie said there is a working group looking at learning loss and at what other jurisdictions are doing about it.  

"This is something we are working towards addressing over the term of this pandemic," he said.

About the Author

Jackie McKay

Reporter

Jackie McKay is a Métis journalist working for CBC in Nunavut. She has worked as a reporter in Thunder Bay, Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Iqaluit. Jackie also worked on CBC Radio One shows including The Current, Metro Morning, after graduating from Ryerson University in 2017. Follow her on Twitter @mckayjacqueline.

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