MLA pushes Nunavut premier to end social promotion in schools

Three years after Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna said social promotion 'has to' end, schools are still promoting students who haven't mastered the skills for their grade.

Passing students who don't master skills raises 'false hopes' and is a 'nasty surprise' for parents: Okalik

'Social promotion is a very difficult issue for students,' Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Paul Okalik said in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly Monday. 'It raises false hopes.' (Nunavut Legislative Assembly)

With only a year until the next territorial election, one MLA wants to know when Nunavut's premier will follow through on a commitment to end social promotion in schools. 

The controversial policy allows teachers to move students to the next grade even if they haven't mastered the skills required. 

"It raises false hopes," Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Paul Okalik said in the legislature Monday. 

"It is a nasty surprise for a lot of parents, when they find their children have been promoted unfairly."

Okalik says the government committed to making education a priority and it needs to follow through on its promises before it's too late.

The practice of social promotion is when students move to the next grade even if they aren't able to show they have mastered the necessary skills. (The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette)

When Peter Taptuna became Nunavut's premier in 2013, CBC News asked him if social promotion would end. He replied, "it has to."

In the years since, the issue of social promotion — often referred to as "continuous progress" by the territory — has been publicly debated in community events and town halls but the territory has not committed to getting rid of the practice. 

Education issues don't have 'an overnight fix'

In the legislature Monday, Taptuna said "social promotion can be interpreted in many, many ways." 

He said the government is following through on its commitment to make education a top priority through its review of the made-in-Nunavut Education Act. 
Premier Peter Taptuna said issues with social promotion don't have an 'overnight fix.' (Nunavut Legislative Assembly)

"This is not an overnight fix," Taptuna told the legislative assembly. 

"This has been going on for a long, long time and we intend to tackle it step by step to ensure that our students get the best possible education."

But not everyone in Nunavut is convinced that movement is going in the right direction. 

Earlier this year, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. didn't mince words when it said social promotion is doing "significant harm" to students.

Last week, the group took its criticism of proposed changes to the Education Act a step further, publicly calling on MLAs to vote them down

Taptuna defends quality of schooling

Taptuna downplayed concerns about the quality of education in the territory, saying Nunavut's schools live up to national standards in terms of language skills and academics.

"There are other students that move down south after living up in Nunavut for a number of years, who have indicated that the education levels in Nunavut are just as good as what's happening in other jurisdictions," he said. 

During the six-minute exchange in the legislature, Okalik asked three times when Taptuna's "promise of ending social promotion will be honoured." 

Each time, Taptuna referred to the Education Act's review.

"The practice is going to end as soon as we get our Education Act in order," he said at the end of the discussion.

In an Inuktitut interview, Okalik openly mused that Taptuna may be keeping the issue of social promotion on the table — but not resolved — in the hopes that it will help his re-election. 

with files from Jordan Konek