One of the biggest themes we see this time of year, when we celebrate high school and post-secondary graduates, is to embrace your future, find your passions and your place in this world.
It isn’t always easy to do this when we consider the many challenges facing students in the North, but Nunavummiut students continue to prove that where there’s a will, there’s a way.
In 2011, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) released the National Strategy on Inuit Education. With this document as a framework, the past decade of hard work has resulted in many improvements in education outcomes.
High school graduation rates continue to improve, and more Inuit students are attending college, university and trade schools than ever.
Statistics Canada reported as of 2016 that 41 per cent of Inuit had attained their high school diploma. Among Inuit living within Inuit Nunangat, 28.2 per cent reported a post-secondary qualification compared with Inuit living outside Inuit Nunangat at 53.3 per cent.
“It is working, but not to its fullest capacity,” says Peesee Pitsiulak, Nunavut Arctic College’s Nunatta Campus dean and a member of the Arctic and Northern Policy Framework’s Task Force on Northern Post-Secondary Education.
She also says Nunavut’s curriculum is more culturally relevant to Nunavummiut than ever before.
Inuit-language education has been recognized as a priority, and over the next five years curricula will be developed to implement Inuit language arts classes in schools across the territory. Bill 25 has been widely panned as not being enough, nor soon enough, but Education Minister David Joanasie noted in a 2019 interview that Nunavut must still build capacity with Inuktut-speaking teachers, along with a host of other complications, including revising curricula further and even developing more infrastructure – space in which to teach the growing population.
Schooling in the territory, however, is fraught with mixed feelings.
“I think this is where we need to challenge Nunavummiut, in general, and society, in general,” said Joanasie. “The pursuit of education. Looking at our attendance rate. Looking at the historical context, this is an issue we need to continue to address.
“We want our children and students to want to go to school, to have that determination, that drive and motivation. I think this is where, as a department, as a government, we want to have that space and environment for them for the learning to occur.”
The other issue is choice. Nunavummiut and Northern students deserve to have programs they can enrol in that offer them personal and professional development, without the focus being solely on preparing them to enter government or industry workforces. Hopefully the new university in development by ITK will help address some of these gaps.
Decolonizing education by ensuring students have access to culturally-relevant studies in Inuktut and English will help students find deeper meaning in their learning and set them up for success.
Education in the arts is important as well, allowing youth and adults chances to connect with themselves and their culture through music, traditional and contemporary art and crafting.
Joanasie said, “I, as a leader, and the government, want to entice, motivate and tell Nunavummiut that education is boundless. If you look at it in a way that it’s a gift that keeps on giving, or something that will help you for the rest of your life – I think this is where people can take ownership of it, and follow their passions.”
Congratulations to the class of 2021 on your successes so far, graduating in the midst of a pandemic is no small feat! May the next steps you take help you fulfill your goals for yourselves and your communities.