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Nunavut DEAs worried proposed education reforms would strip them of powers

The debate over proposed reforms to Nunavut's Education Act continues with the District Education Authorities coming out against recommendations they say will strip them of some of their powers.

Say recommendations would reduce community input into hiring school staff, scheduling calendars

Nakasuk school in Iqaluit. Nunavut's District Education Authorities are coming out against proposed reforms to Nunavut's Education Act they say will strip them of some of their powers. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

The debate over proposed reforms to Nunavut's Education Act continues with the District Education Authorities coming out against recommendations they say will strip them of some of their powers.

"DEAs are concerned that their voice is going to be decreased and those powers reduced," said Kelli Gillard, chair of the Coalition of Nunavut District Education Authorities.

'DEAs are concerned that their voice is going to be decreased and those powers reduced,' says Kelli Gillard, chair of the Coalition of Nunavut District Education Authorities. (Coalition of Nunavut District Education Authorities)

The Government of Nunavut has been gathering public feedback on the territory's Education Act through consultations across the territory. The first phase of the consultations wrapped up at the end of June and the second phase is scheduled to start in August.

DEAs are locally-elected bodies made up of community members who work with school staff to carry out various administrative tasks.

The government's review of the Education Act found that the 2008 act had given DEAs many new roles and responsibilities. The review noted that while some district education authorities are capable of meeting expectations, "the majority are not" resulting in "inequalities in the delivery of education across Nunavut's communities." 

The review recommended coming up with a standardized set of duties and responsibilities that reflect the "common capacity" of the DEAs.

DEAs are concerned about losing powers such as participating in the hiring of staff, specifically principals, for their schools.

"It's actually is an important part of getting that community buy-in and ensuring that schools and communities are able to have that say," said Gillard.

She said another major concern is the proposal to unify the school calendar across the territory.

"Schools start and end in different areas at different times for specific reasons," said Gillard.

"Communities need to have a little flexibility in their calendar."

Consultation timeline

Gillard said DEAs feel the government is rushing through consultations with inadequate time for DEA members to review the proposed changes and consult their communities.

"People felt very rushed, the presentations were very rushed, and didn't even have enough opportunities to ask any questions," said Gillard.

Kathy Okpik, deputy minister of education, says the department was given little time to prepare the consultations. (CBC)
"It's difficult some of those materials. It's a lot of heavy reading and a lot of proposals and people aren't necessarily sure what they're commenting on right now."

Kathy Okpik, deputy minister of education, said the department was given little time to prepare the consultations.

"Basically this is a legislated process, so unfortunately by the time we had received the approvals to be able to release the information it was basically a week," she said.

She said the consultation period continues until Sept. 2, with meetings scheduled throughout the territory.

Gillard said the summer months are not ideal for such consultations as many community members are away on vacation or on the land, and preparations for the upcoming school year are underway.

Inuit participation in school system

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the organization that represents Inuit under the land claims agreement, says DEAs should be strengthened.

"District authorities should receive adequate training and resources, and have the authority to make decisions about staffing and operations," said NTI vice-president James Eetoolook.

'Education reforms must strengthen our right to be educated in Inuktut,' says NTI's James Eetoolook. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)
The Inuit organization is also pushing for a curriculum that reflects and promotes Inuit identity and culture, and more Inuktitut language provisions.

"Education reforms must strengthen our right to be educated in Inuktut, promote Inuit cultural instruction and Inuit identity, and dramatically increase the number of Inuit teachers in our schools," said Eetoolook.

NTI is asking for instruction in Inuktut for 80 per cent or more of educational programs from kindergarten to Grade 12, and stressing the need for 85 per cent of teachers in the territory to be Inuit as stipulated under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

After the consultations, the minister of education will be tabling proposed amendments for the review of MLAs in the winter 2017 session.

With files from Nick Murray

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