Iqaluit high school graduate says it's time for Nunavut to get its own curriculum

Zan Tao interviewed students and teachers for a paper on the need for a made-in-Nunavut education. With the implementation of Bill 25, the territory's department of Education says change is coming.

Zan Tao interviewed students and teachers for a paper on the need for a made-in-Nunavut education

The Inuksuk High School, which teaches kids in Grades 9 to 12. (Kyle Muzyka/CBC)

A recent graduate of Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit says it's time for Nunavut to have its own curriculum. 

Zan Tao, who just finished Grade 12, wrote a paper on the need for a made-in-Nunavut curriculum for her Aulajaaqtut 12 class, in which she interviewed students and teachers about the curriculum. 

In an interview with CBC, Tao said the material often feels irrelevant to students. 

Zan Tao, recently graduated from Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit. She says Nunavut should develop its own curriculum that is more relevant to students in the territory. (Submitted by Zan Tao)

Nunavut follows an Alberta-based curriculum that also adapts material from Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, according to the Department of Education. There are also some courses developed in Nunavut, like Aulajaaqtut 12.  

One complaint students have is about the departmental exams for Grade 12 students, which are made by the Alberta Government and worth 30 per cent of students's final grade. 

Tao says many Grade 12 students drop extracurriculars they were involved with in Grade 11 to focus on the exams, which "take all your free time away during your last year of high school."

Inuksuk High School physics teacher, Bart Nichol, says extracurriculars can eat into a lot of class time, as some can mean being out of class for a week. 

"Teaching those departmental courses when some of those things are happening — it's just brutal," he said. 

Nichol says for academically-driven students, the curriculum prepares them well for a post-secondary education. But he says the department should be focusing their attention on students who have other goals after high school. He also thinks the curriculum should focus on self-esteem and how to serve the community. 

Education for community success 

Bart Nichol, physics teacher at Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit. (Submitted by Bart Nichol )

Jay McKechnie, a guidance counsellor at Inuksuk High School, says systemic issues, like teacher turnover, need to be addressed to provide students better education. 

"At the start of every school year, [students] are teaching the teacher about life in Nunavut before they can start teaching [them] the curriculum. So, it is really difficult for young people when they have that constant turnover," said McKechnie. 

But, McKechnie adds the courses that are Nunavut focused and developed in the territory are very successful but they aren't consistent from kindergarten to Grade 12. 

James Arreak, executive director of the Coalition of Nunavut District Education Authorities. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Need for Inuit teachers

James Arreak, executive director of the Coalition of Nunavut District Education Authorities (DEA), says it's time for Nunavut to have its own curriculum. 

"Though there is some helpful foundations [in the Alberta curriculum] in terms of relevance for Nunavut students it's really been questioned at this point," said Arreak. 

He says a made-in-Nunavut curriculum is a priority of the DEA but they need Inuit teachers who can teach in Inuktut to help make it. 

"The Department of Education has had more than 20 years to consider planning, investing in a curriculum and we haven't advanced much since 1999," said Arreak. 

Arreak says bilingual Inuktut education and course development must grow together. He says Nunavut is unique to the rest of Canada and its history and culture should be a foundation of the education system. 

Gov't says new curriculum coming with Bill 25 

In November 2020, an act to amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act, Bill 25, became law. It aims to have fully bilingual Inuktut education from kindergarten to Grade 12 by 2039. 

In an email to CBC, the Department of Education said a new made-in-Nunavut curriculum will be phased in with the implementation of Bill 25.

"Curriculum and resources will be linguistically and culturally appropriate and reflective of the lived experiences of Inuit," said the email from the department. 


Jackie McKay


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.