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Nunavut gov't pledges to help college students, high school graduates during pandemic

MLAs and members of cabinet stood unanimously to support a motion to do more for the education and employment of Inuit youth during the COVID-19 pandemic.

'The challenges our youth face on a daily basis have been exacerbated,' MLA says in motion

Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit. Half as many first year students applied for financial aid to go to post-secondary school this year. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

Post-secondary students can now call on their government for support, after MLAs and members of cabinet stood unanimously on Monday to support a motion to do more for the education and employment of Inuit youth during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Our youth face countless barriers to success. Barriers such as food insecurity, overcrowding, abuse, mental health, as well as limited education and employment opportunities," said Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone. 

Because of COVID-19, "the challenges our youth face on a daily basis have been exacerbated," he said.  

His formal motion in the legislature calls on the Nunavut government to create a response plan for post-secondary students struggling because of travel restrictions, cancelled or altered college and university programs and limited job opportunities. 

Arreak Lightstone called on the government to explore partnerships with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. to provide "meaningful employment and training opportunities" for students impacted by COVID-19.

MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone calls on the government to create a response plan for post-secondary students and high school graduates who have limited options because of COVID-19. (Beth Brown/CBC)

Half as many students applied for financial aid

It's not clear what will come of the motion next, but it comes after application numbers to the territory's student aid program saw fewer applicants this year compared to last year. Of the roughly 500 people who applied for Financial Assistance for Nunavut Students, around 273 are new applicants. That's half as many as last year. 

"This reflects a decrease in applications from previous years," Education Minister David Joanasie said last week.

"This decrease is likely due to COVID-19, as many other jurisdictions in Canada have also experienced a decrease in applications for funding this year." 

Most post-secondary students in Nunavut access this funding. For Inuit, it's mainly a bursary program and does not have to be repaid. It can be used to go to school in Nunavut or in the South. 

About half of Nunavut students who applied for financial support are studying in southern Canada. In the territory, Nunavut Arctic College is still calculating its final enrolment numbers for the current semester. 

Arreak Lightstone says new graduates in Nunavut need help to get jobs during COVID-19. 

"Many youth who complete high school and post-secondary do not have realistic job opportunities in their home communities and cannot simply relocate to pursue employment given our current housing crisis," Arreak Lightstone said. 

Student forced to study online

Arreak Lightstone said graduates he has spoken with from Iqaluit's Inuksuk High School say they took a gap year because of COVID-19.

Ian Kanayuk's schooling has been impacted by COVID-19 too. The 20-year-old had already taken time off from studying after high school so he could spend time volunteering in the South before applying to Nunavut Sivuniksavut in Ottawa. He was ready to head back to school this year.

But instead, Kanayuk is studying online from Iqaluit. He chose the cultural college for Inuit students so he would have a community to be a part of while studying. 

"The whole point was to go down south to be away from home," said Kanayuk.

Student Ian Kanayuk is attending Nunavut Sivuniksavut this year through online courses in Iqaluit instead of in Ottawa. (Submitted by Ian Kanayuk)

Limited and lower quality internet in Nunavut makes online studies a challenge, he said, and students and staff are both adapting to the change. 

"It's not the greatest and it's a little disappointing. We're just going to have to deal with it until we know it's safe to go traveling again," he said.

"I'd rather be disappointed than actually catching COVID-19." 

Kanayuk says he's glad Nunavut has no cases yet, and it's worth staying home if it means elders will be kept safe. 

"My biggest fear is that the elders here, because they hold so much cultural knowledge that is not taught in schools a whole lot. I wouldn't want that to go away," he said.  

"If our elders were to catch COVID[-19], there'd be a lot that would be lost within our culture." 

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