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Social promotion, Inuktitut still hot topics in Nunavut education

There was a heated, lengthy and wide-ranging discussion of education issues at last night's public meeting on the territory's Education Act in Iqaluit, where the issue of social promotion and Inuktitut-language instruction were hot topics.

Special committee to review the Education Act gets an earful in Iqaluit

There was a heated, lengthy and wide-ranging discussion of education issues at last night's public meeting on the territory's Education Act in Iqaluit, where the issue of social promotion and Inuktitut-language instruction were hot topics. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

There was a heated, lengthy and wide-ranging discussion of education issues at last night's public meeting on the territory's Education Act in Iqaluit.

It was the last stop for a legislative committee that's held similar meetings in Baker Lake, Kugluktuk and Pond Inlet.

'A lot of students are behind their grade level,' said Iqaluit mother Alethea Arnaquq-Baril. (Elyse Skura/CBC)
"I was really impressed at first reactions," said Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, one of about 20 parents to attend the three-hour meeting at the Parish Hall.

"They [the committee members] weren't being defensive about the state of things. They were actually listening and agreeing with a lot of the comments that were being made."

But with a newborn son at home, Arnaquq-Baril is still worried about the state of education in the territory, particularly when it comes to social promotion, or what education officials call "continuous progress." The policy allows students to move up a grade, even when they haven't mastered the skills.  

"It might work where teachers have just a few students that are behind in the curriculum, but in Nunavut the reality is a lot of students are missing a lot of school, a lot of students are behind their grade level."

Where is the Inuktitut?

MLAs also heard frustration around teaching, and getting kids to use, Inuktitut.

Committee members Joe Savikataaq, Pat Angnakak, George Hickes (chair), Simeon Mikkungwak (co-chair) and Education Minister Paul Quassa.
Two different bilingual parents, who spoke Inuktitut at the hearing, said they started their children in the Inuktitut-language stream, but switched to the English stream because they felt their children could get better education there.

Part of the problem, they said, was that the Inuktitut teachers couldn't always speak Inuktitut, because many of the children were not themselves Inuktitut speakers.

Two committee members could relate. 

Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak grew up in Nunavut and speaks Inuktitut fluently, but said even her children only speak Inuktitut in her house.  

Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes said he spoke the language as a child, but lost it as he got older. "Iqaluit is a very difficult community to learn Inuktitut in."

'Heartbreaking' language loss

One mother made an emotional plea for more Inuktitut instruction in Iqaluit's French school.

Madeleine Cole says it's heartbreaking that her children have not been able to learn Inuktitut in school. (Elyse Skura/CBC)
Madeleine Cole's three children, aged 11, 8 and 5, are beneficiaries who learned English as their first language. All three kids speak French, thanks largely to their experience at school.

But Cole said it's "heartbreaking" that her children aren't fluent in Inuktitut — something they're gradually becoming aware of as they grow older.

"They're only moving into that age of being self-conscious about it, as many Inuit who have lost their language are," she said. "When people ask them questions, they sort of freeze."

Cole said all kids, and particularly beneficiaries, deserve to learn their language.

"Language is pride. Language tells you who you are and where you are from."

MLAs and residents pointed to the successful integration of Inuktitut and French into the education system in Nunavik.

"I hope for change."

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