Nunavut parent and teacher groups decry changes to education, language acts

The organization representing parents of Nunavut students is denouncing a controversial proposed law that would change the Nunavut Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection act. 

The Coalition of Nunavut District Education Authorities says Bill 25, An Act to Amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act, would create a "two-tiered education system" in which francophone residents have more power over their education system than Inuktut-speaking residents. 

"The French speaking residents have more decision making ability than do the general Inuit speaking residents," said Jedidah Merkosak, chairperson of the coalition.

"Therefore they are more at home than we are." 

A standing committee, made up of Nunavut MLAs, began public hearings on the bill this week. 

On Monday, the coalition suggested amending the bill to ensure rights guaranteed to the francophone community are also applied to Inuit. 

Education Minister David Joanasie said he needed to look at the suggestion more closely and would revisit it on Thursday. 

Coalition, NTI reject bill

On the first day of hearings, both the coalition and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) told the committee the bill in its current form should be rejected. 

"I've expressed how disappointed we have been and reminded the minister that we are partners and not stakeholders," said Aluki Kotierk, president of NTI. 

According to the Nunavut Agreement, said Kotierk, NTI should have been part of the formation of the bill, and not just consulted. 

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The agreement says the government has an obligation to provide Inuit with the opportunity to participate in the development of social and cultural policies, as well as the designs of the programs and services. 

"We didn't want to be [part of the creation of the bill], we need to be, according to the constitutionally protected rights outlined in the Nunavut Agreement," said Kotierk. 

Joanasie did not say why NTI wasn't involved in drafting of the legislation when asked about it during the hearing.

Kotierk shares the coalition's belief that the bill takes away powers from local district education authorities. 

Address teacher crisis 

During Tuesday's hearings, the standing committee said statistics provided by the Nunavut Teachers' Association are shocking. 

Every year, Nunavut loses about 35 per cent of its teachers and nearly half of its administrators.

What's more, nearly half of the graduates of the Nunavut Teacher Education Program (NTEP) leave teaching within five years. 

"What they are receiving as an education in the NTEP program is not properly preparing them for the realities they will face, in terms of the workload and the issues they will be dealing with their students, when they do come into the classroom," said John Fanjoy, president of the Nunavut Teachers' Association. 

Fanjoy told the committee that there needs to be a formal mentorship program for teachers in Nunavut schools. This program should be tailored to NTEP graduates as well as teachers moving to communities from the south, he said. 

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The Nunavut Teachers' Association said Bill 25 must address the current teacher crisis. It can do this by addressing the recruitment and retention of teachers in the Education Act. 

"We believe it should be a focus in the legislation," said Fanjoy.

He said teachers are leaving because of increased violence in the classroom, large class sizes, which are causing burnout, and a shortage of staff housing for Inuit teachers. 

However, said Fanjoy, the part of the Education Act that most urgently needs fixing is the student-educator ratios. 

The ratio determines how many teachers a school needs. Right now, the numbers are calculated based on student attendance on Sept. 30 of each year. They compare this number with how many teaching staff are at the school. 

According to Fanjoy, this formula does not give an accurate picture of what classrooms need and punishes schools with low attendance. 

Bill 25 does not mention the student-educator ratio. 

The education minister said the department is looking into a new student-educator ratio formula, but that it didn't see a need to incorporate it into Bill 25.