N.W.T. Education Department reveals action plan in response to 2020 audit

·3 min read

The Northwest Territories' Department of Education is contemplating creating an Indigenous language instructor employment plan to ensure the territory has the next generation of language teachers.

It's is one of several pieces of a proposed action plan in response to a 2020 federal audit of K-12 education across the territory, unveiled by department officials Friday before the Standing Committee on Government Operations.

"The department's progress to support indigenous language and culture-based education was slow," said Karen Hogan, the auditor general of Canada, who appeared before the committee by video.

"The need for swift action is increasingly critical because the knowledge of Indigenous languages is declining."

Government of Northwest Territories
Government of Northwest Territories

The audit was released back in February. The meeting was originally scheduled for April but was pushed back because of the pandemic.

"We found shortfalls in the department's actions in every area that we audited," said Hogan.

"The department must take steps and work with regional education bodies and other partners to ensure that the education system improves student outcomes, including closing the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, as well as between students in smaller communities and students in larger centres," she said.

The audit made several findings, including inflated graduation rates of almost 30 per cent.

On Friday, the department said it has changed how it measures the rates. It used to divide the number of graduates by the number of 18-year-olds in the territory. Now, it uses a cohort method, by following how many students enrol in Grade 12 at the start of the year and compare it to how many end up graduating the following year.

Key takeaways

The department's deputy minister, Rita Mueller, alongside the assistant deputy minister, John MacDonald, outlined four key takeaways from the audit for the committee:

  • Resources were overstretched.

  • There was a lack of program planning.

  • Data used to measure student learning fell short.

  • A "bottleneck" of Grade 10 students who fail to make it any further, in part because the territories' inclusive schooling policy, known as "social passing" — in which students pass from grade to grade and are not held back — is no longer an option.

When asked by Caitlin Cleveland, MLA for Kam Lake, about whether the department tracks why so many students seem to be dropping out in Grade 10, Mueller said, they don't.

"This is an area that is going to have to garner some attention from the department going forward," MacDonald added.

Action plan

Officials outlined a number of proposals in response to the audit to improve the shortcomings, including:

  • Developing an early learning framework and handbook for early childhood educators working with licensed child care programs.

  • Providing distance learning opportunities in all "small schools" by continuing to expand the Northern Distance Learning Program.

  • Implementing an online educator certification and credentialing system for both early childhood and junior kindergarten to Grade 12 educators.

  • Modernizing the Education Act.

  • Developing plans to analyze and share results with the public on how school-age children are performing.

  • Providing targeted training for instructors who teach multiple grades.

The committee will review the department's action plan and report the results in the winter sitting of the Legislative Assembly.