Parents and Inuit group worried about changes to Nunavut's Education Act

As three months of public consultations on the government of Nunavut's proposed updates to the Education Act wrap up, some groups remain concerned about what the draft bill will look like.

Proposed amendments could change language timelines, DEA structure and authorities

Nunavut's Department of Education held its Iqaluit community consultation at the Qajuqturvik Food Centre last week. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

As three months of public consultations on the government of Nunavut's proposed updates to the Education Act wrap up, some groups remain concerned about what the draft bill will look like.

The updates are needed because the current Act, from 2008, mandates bilingual Inuktut education in the territory by 2019. With 2019 less than a month away, Nunavut isn't even close to providing it.

Hall Beach, Arviat, Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay will likely be visited next week, meaning there will have been a consultation in each of Nunavut's 25 communities.

Education Minister David Joanasie said he was counselled by his staff to go "deeper" with community feedback than the previous government did when preparing Bill 37 — the first attempt to draft an act to amend the Education Act.

"If we want this process to succeed, we need all communities to have their say."

Joanasie said the Department of Education will compile the communities' feedback and draft a new bill through the winter, which will be introduced to the Legislature during the spring sitting.

In 2016, the government held nine community consultations and it cost around $300,000, Joanasie said. He said this round will be more expensive, but wouldn't give a specific figure because the consultations are not yet finished.

Better way to draft the act?

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) and the Coalition of Nunavut District Education Authorities are worried about that future bill.

Nikki Eegeesiak, the executive director of the Coalition of Nunavut DEAs — a non-governmental organization that represents parents' voices and works with local education authorities — said there was a better way to update the Education Act.

Nikki Eegeesiak is the executive director of the coalition of district education authorities in Nunavut. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

At the beginning of November, when the coalition had its annual general meeting, the members unanimously agreed they weren't getting the answers from the government to understand the proposed changes, Eegeesiak said.

"The department is revisiting Bill 37 — the last bill that was rejected by the MLAs," she said. "We're spending a lot of time and energy [on that]."

At a typical community consultation, Eegeesiak said the government would present their amendments, which the coalition and NTI representatives would mostly oppose, then the floor would open to the public for response. 

Eegeesiak said this process wasn't effective, so the coalition voted to hold a multi-day meeting with education stakeholders — including the Department of Education, Department of Culture and Heritage, NTI, and the coalition — to brainstorm a "Nunavut-made Education Act."

That would be a more coherent proposal presented to the public, she said.

But the education department declined the idea of this separate meeting. Joanasie said the community consultations have been a good forum for dialogue.

Nunavut's Minister of Education David Joanasie says he'll be meeting with the DEA again to discuss its concerns. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Inuktut instruction timelines a concern

At the Iqaluit consultation, NTI's Lizzie Aliqatuqtuq raised concerns about a lack of education in Inuktut, a term encompassing all Inuit language dialects.

"Any changes to the regulations surrounding Inuktut language of instruction must be based on a plan. If you're proposing to change dates, we want to see the plan. We want to see dates and how these new targets will be met," she said.

The failed Bill 37 proposed to push the deadline for implementing bilingual education for elementary school kids to 2029. This was widely criticized as it was seen as too far away. The bill didn't set a date for bilingual education in high school. 

This time the department is proposing to time the roll out of bilingual education alongside its Inuit employment plan — a goal to employ more Inuit in public service and leadership. The government has not yet made public its targets for Inuit employment.

Pujjuut Kusugak is the deputy minister of Nunavut's Department of Education. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

The deputy minister of Education, Pujjuut Kusugak, said at least 450 Inuktut-speaking teachers are needed for bilingual education. Currently, there are 140, out of the 705 teachers in the territory. 

NTI says 450 Inuktut teachers is too low of a goal, and noted that at the moment Nunavut is only adding about 2.4 Inuktut-speaking educators a year. That's a lower rate than when Nunavut became a territory.

At that rate, it would take Nunavut about 129 years to fill the number of Inuktut-speaking teachers it needs, not accounting for teachers retiring or population growth.

For that reason, Joanasie said the department is planning to tap into funds from NTI's Makigiaqta Inuit Training Corporation to improve teacher training.

More power for the government

Right now, the local education authorities decide the dates of the school calendar, can hire and fire principals, and have say in the school curriculum.

Joanasie said as principals and vice-principals are members of the public service, their contracts should be controlled by the department. A DEA representative will remain on the hiring panel, according to the department's proposal.

As for shifting curriculum responsibility, local and cultural programming will stay with the DEAs, but academic decisions will be made by the department.

The coalition, however, doesn't like this idea because they said each community has its own needs.

"Yes, [we're] recognizing every community's unique needs, however at the same time, we do want to have a consistency in the program of our education so that all students — whether they're from Sanikiluaq, Grise Fiord, Kugluktuk — they're receiving the same level of education," Joanasie said.

The Department of Education presents in Iqaluit on its proposed changes to the Education Act. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

The minister, or their delegate, will have the authority to suspend or expel students and individualized student support plans will be developed by the department.

Eegeesiak said those kinds of decisions need to be made with parents input.

"If the department takes over a lot of local decision-making, how is a member from Kugaaruk going to be able to call the minister's office and say, 'I'm having a problem with my son or daughter. She's not attending school because of bullying,'" Eegeesiak said.

Proposal to make coalition more accountable

Another major change would be the overall structure of the coalition of DEAs. Right now, the coalition is registered under Nunavut's Societies Act, with some responsibilities delegated to it in the current Education Act.

The government is proposing to change how the overarching DEA structure gets its authority. They also want to change the name from Coalition to the Council of Nunavut DEAs.

We're not proposing removing [Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit] from the Education Act.- David Joanasie, Nunavut's minister of education 

Joanasie said the council of DEAs would still be independent, but would be held more accountable under the new act. 

The council would have to submit annual reports to the Legislative Assembly.

The government funds the coalition to the tune of $665,000 annually. This would be boosted under the proposed changes. It will also allow for the coalition to have six employees instead of the two it has now.

Better resourced, it could train and support the local DEAs in their efforts to promote culturally-relevant programming.

Where's Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit?

The DEAs say they obtained leaked objectives that call for the removal of traditional knowledge —Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) — from the new act, but Joanasie said that's not the full story.

He said the plan is to strengthen traditional values.

"We're not proposing removing it from the Education Act," said Joanasie. "In the current Education Act, IQ is referenced in only certain parts of the act and not the entire act. It doesn't apply to every section."

Joanasie said the plan is to beef up the language dealing with IQ in the first part of the act, which are the guiding principles for the entire act.

However, he said all the things the department has presented are only ideas. It welcomes feedback and will take what it hears into consideration when it drafts a new act.

The deadline for written feedback from the public on these proposed amendments is Dec. 14.