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Yukon 'on the right track' to improving education system, minister says

Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee says the government is 'very concerned' about problems highlighted in a new report from the auditor general of Canada, and is taking steps to address them.

'The audit confirms the concerns that our government has had,' said education minister Tracy-Anne McPhee

'We're very concerned about the auditor general's findings, and have been since taking office in late 2016,' says Yukon Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee. (CBC)

Yukon's education minister says the government is "very concerned" about problems highlighted in a new report from the auditor general of Canada, and will work with First Nations to address the issues.

The report released on Tuesday said Yukon was not doing enough to create "inclusive" classrooms where all student education needs are met. It found that Indigenous and rural students, as well as those with special needs, are often not getting the programming they need or deserve.  

Education minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said there weren't a lot of surprises for her government, in the report.

"We're very concerned about the auditor general's findings, and have been since taking office in late 2016," McPhee said.

"The audit confirms the concerns that our government has had."

She said the government is committed to working with First Nations to improve outcomes for Indigenous students. According to the auditor general, Indigenous students in Yukon are less likely to graduate high school and more likely to drop out — but over the past decade, the territorial government has done little to figure out why.

McPhee says that will change.

"We need to work with Yukon First Nations to figure out the root causes, to figure out what things can be addressed in communities, and here in Whitehorse, to make sure that the needs of those students are actually being met by what is being delivered," she said. 

The auditor general's report highlights how Yukon's rural schools are often 'under-resourced,' says the president of the Yukon Teachers' Association. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

She pointed to her department's decision to appoint a new deputy minister for First Nations initiatives, and says her government has the "political will" to work with First Nations. 

"I can't say that that's always been the case. This audit goes from 2009 to late 2018. We have, since taking office in December of 2016, worked very hard ... to have better relationships. 

"So, I do think there is improvement. I think there's a long way to go, but I think we're on the right track," she said.

There's work to do, says teachers' association

Sue Harding, president of the Yukon Teachers' Association, agrees that the government still has work to do.

She said the auditor general's report highlights how Yukon's rural schools are often "under-resourced," so staff don't always get the support they need.

"Teachers in rural schools often miss out on professional development, simply because there are no teachers on call to come in and fill those jobs for them when they need to be out of their classrooms," Harding said.

She said rural schools also rarely have consultants — such as occupational therapists or educational psychologists — visit in order to help assess and monitor the progress of special needs students. 

'It's my hope that they will be able to implement stronger language and cultural programs in all of our schools. I think it benefits all of us,' says Sue Harding, president of the Yukon Teachers' Association. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Harding also criticized the government's new policy limiting the amount of time rural teachers can live in government staff housing to three years. She said teachers should be encouraged to stay in communities, because it's better for students' long-term success.

She said she's pleased though, with the government's stated commitment to incorporate more First Nations culture and language into classrooms. 

"If you can come to school speaking your first language and be comfortable in that language, then you're only going to do much better learning other languages and developing your learning capacity through other areas," she said.

"I'm concerned about capacity, but it's my hope that they will be able to implement stronger language and cultural programs in all of our schools. I think it benefits all of us."

With files from Jane Sponagle

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