Would-be teachers in the N.W.T. will soon have a new option for getting their education degree — and they won't even have to leave the territory to do it.
Four northern educators have been developing an accredited program in partnership with Vancouver Island University (VIU) to offer a Bachelor of Education degree. Now, they're looking for participants.
Lois Philipp, a former principal at Deh Gáh School in Fort Providence, said the group's efforts began as a way to address some of the inequities that exist in education in the North — particularly focusing on helping to get Indigenous and northern teachers into the N.W.T.'s schools.
"Once we begin to fill those positions with northerners, we begin to change the economic stability of some of our communities. And that really, I think, is an important aspect of this whole initiative," Philipp said.
To that end, they have created a program tailored to the North, which takes into consideration issues in Indigenous education, colonization and residential schools. Courses will be co-instructed by VIU professors and northern educators.
"We are looking at offering both a post-baccalaureate and a third-year entry into the Bachelor of Education program for people in the Northwest Territories that already have a degree, a diploma or two years of a degree program. Also, journeyman certification," said Jane Arychuk, who spent six years as president of Aurora College.
Arychuk, who is also a former principal at Deh Gáh School, said the N.W.T. education system has tried to integrate northern experiences into the classroom, but that will be easier once more teachers from the North are hired.
"It will just be the way that they teach, so it's quite exciting to think that that will actually come to be, and be part of the classroom," she said.
Philipp and Arychuk have spent the past eight months working on this program, alongside retired Beaufort Delta Education Council superintendent Denise McDonald and Anita Lafferty, from Liidlii Kue, who has taught at all levels of school in Alberta and recently defended her PhD examining approaches of Indigenous curriculum at the University of Alberta.
Philipp said the plan grew out of a desire to tackle the issue of teacher retention and shortages.
Right now, people who want to become teachers generally have to leave the North to get their degree. Though there used to be a Bachelor of Education program at Aurora College, the college suspended admissions to that program in 2018.
Arychuk said this new program is "filling a gap" while the college works to transform into a polytechnic university.
"Teachers were needed while Aurora College was operating, and teachers will continue to be needed," she said.
"This opportunity that Vancouver Island University was willing to work with us on offers an opportunity to speed up and get some people into the classroom."
CBC asked Aurora College for an interview about the effort to train teachers locally.
In an email, Jayne Murray, the manager of communications and college relations for Aurora College, said the college's goal "continues to be to work on Aurora College's transformation to a northern-based polytechnic university and to enhance and introduce post-secondary programs that are relevant to northerners and the northern economy."
Camps, practicums and online courses
Arychuk said the plan is to start getting teachers into classrooms by September 2023.
The program will begin in April 2022, and while the program will require some travel, students won't leave the territory to learn. They will come together for a few on-the-land courses within the territory, and the rest of the program involves school-based practicums and online courses.
Philipp said one of the courses the group is looking to deliver involves regional camps based in the local language.
"Say, for instance, if we have teacher candidates from the Dehcho, we would bring them together in a two-week immersive camp... in Dene Zhatie," she said.
"I would love to be able to take something like the sciences and math and maybe do a canoe trip from [Fort Providence] to Jean Marie [River], and just look at how do you integrate those core subjects into your classrooms in a way that connects with our youth."
Looking for participants
Arychuk said the N.W.T. Department of Education, Culture and Employment is helping the group navigate the bureaucratic side of starting this program, and they have also been in talks with Student Financial Assistance in an effort to knock down any barriers for participants.
They're now looking for people who might want to take the program, and who already have some post-secondary education under their belt — a college diploma, two years of university, a degree or those who are RED Seal Journeymen.
"We are looking for people who ... have some experience, but realize maybe they're interested in returning to their community and offering service to their community, and working in the most rewarding career there is — education," Arychuk said.
An information session for Dehcho and Tłı̨chǫ residents is set for Thursday at 8 p.m.
Sahtu and Beaufort Delta residents can take part in an information session Friday at 8 p.m.
Residents in the North and South Slave regions can join an information session Saturday at 11 a.m.
For details, interested parties can email firstname.lastname@example.org.