Northern Sask. faculty, students, to hold rally to save NORTEP

A group of faculty and students from La Ronge will be holding a rally at the Legislative Building in Regina today to save a northern university program.

Provincial government to discontinue funding to university program at end of year

A group of NORTEP and NORPAC faculty and students in front of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building. (Submitted by April Chiefcalf)

A group of faculty and students from La Ronge will be holding a rally at the Legislative Building in Regina today to save a northern university program.

In July, the provincial Ministry of Education announced it would be ending funding to NORTEP and NORPAC by the end of the year. The program allows northern students to complete a Bachelor of Education or Bachelor of Arts program without leaving the north.

Now, the province is talking about consolidating post-secondary education in the north, something that people involved in the program say would be a bad idea.

Students attending a class at NORTEP. (April Chiefcalf)

"We have been talking to them for two years now, trying to express to them that the north is a unique place," said NORTEP faculty member April Chiefcalf. "We are a very successful program that has changed the educational landscape of the north"

Founded in 1976, the Northern Teacher Education Program (NORTEP) was designed to create northern teachers by offering a university degree in La Ronge.

"A lot of the people who come to our program are northerners," said Chiefcalf. "They've spend most of their lives in the north, and for them to travel to the south to take university would probably be quite a culture shock for them."

Now, students and faculty are taking the argument to Regina today, trying their best to save their program. She said any changes to the program could have serious implications for elementary and high schools across northern Saskatchewan.

"I think it's really hard for children and youth to build trust with teachers, that they don't think are going to stay for very long," she said. "Having somebody who has been raised in the north, educated in the north, and is working in the north, is going to build a better relationship with children."

While the province hasn't made a firm decision on what its plans are, it's rumoured NORTEP will merge with Northlands College, a technical college in La Ronge that also offers university programming. Faculty and students are worried courses will be taught by teachers in southern Saskatchewan through videoconferencing.

Dozens of people gathered for a NORTEP rally in La Ronge this morning. (April Chiefcalf)

"I'm not opposed to distance education technology," she said. "But it doesn't suit our purpose, where we're trying to train our future teachers."

Chiefcalf said NORTEP has formed its own committee to look for other potential partners to keep the school open. However, she said many at NORTEP want the program to stay as it is.

The province has said any student currently enrolled in NORTEP classes will not be disrupted by the changes.

Students and faculty will rally at the Legislative Building at noon CST today. Rallies will also be held in La Ronge and at the University of Saskatchewan campus in Saskatoon.