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Education system creates many hurdles to high school graduation: auditor general

High school students and adult learners are the Government of Nunavut's (GN) greatest human resource, but what's being done to develop that resource?

Audit principal Jim McKenzie delivered the Auditor General of Canada report on Support for High School Students and Adult Learners to the Legislative Assembly June 4.
Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

Not enough, according to the latest report on Nunavut from the Auditor General of Canada.

"Overall, we found a number of gaps and barriers in Nunavut's education system that made it difficult for high school students and adult learners to succeed academically and transition to post-secondary education and employment," said audit principal Jim McKenzie.

McKenzie and several staff from the auditor general's office were in Iqaluit June 4 to deliver the report, Support for High School Students and Adult Learners, which was tabled in the legislative assembly that day.

Read the auditor's report:

2019 June Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut: Support for High School Students and Adult Learners

The audit team made 12 recommendations to the GN Department of Education, as well as Family Services, which administers student financial assistance programs, and Nunavut Arctic College, including:

  • develop and implement a strategy outlining specific action the Department of Education and partners will take to help students graduate from high school
  • improve attendance data
  • develop and carry out a strategy to recruit and retain staff in schools and the department, with details on what that strategy should contain
  • develop actions the Department of Education can take to encourage students to enroll in post-secondary education programs that would lead to positions in the department

The Department of Education agreed to these, noting work had begun to develop a 10-year strategic plan, which will include helping high school students be successful. Similarly, the department will be working on a 10-year teacher retention and recruitment strategy this fiscal year.

The report lists a number of instances where there is a lack of staffing and a lack of follow-through on plans.

Some of the roadblocks encountered by high school students include their schools not having guidance counsellors to offer career advice and schools not fulfilling the requirement that students develop career and program plans.

"Agreed," responded the Department of Education.

"The completion of the career and program planning process is mandatory at Grade 9 and embedded into Aulajaaqtut courses at grades 10 and 11. Schools that have undergone a high staff and administrative turnover may not be following the mandate."

In addition, the auditors recommend Arctic College inform high school student about the various academic programs it offers and ensure that it keeps information on its programs and admission requirements clear and up-to-date.

"At the start of the 2018-2019 school year, there were almost 2,800 high school students (Grades 10 to 12) in Nunavut," states the report.

However, many high school students need more than one year to complete a grade.

"Many high school students also left school early," the report states.

After 21, Nunavummiut without a Grade 12 who are seeking to complete high school are considered adult learners. They face even more daunting hurdles. As the report notes, 52 per cent of Inuit between the ages of 25 and 64 have not graduated high school.

For example, the department's program Pathway to Adult Secondary School Graduation Program (PASS) has a dismal success rate.

"Most of adult learners accepted into (PASS) between fall 2016 and fall 2018 had fewer than 65 credits – not enough to graduate after taking the program," states the report.

It takes 100 credit to graduate high school. Of the 286 adult learners accepted into the program, nine graduated.

"The Department of Education should review the requirements needed to obtain a high school diploma through the Pathway to Adult Secondary School Graduation program (PASS) and determine whether alternative requirements for obtaining a Nunavut high school diploma should be established for adult learners," recommend the auditors.

The audit also found that between 2014 and 2018 the college's Adult Basic Education core was offered in only four of 25 communities at least three times. During that same period, the course was not offered in 17 communities.

"As a result, adults living in these communities had limited access to upgrading that would allow them to become eligible to enter various Nunavut Arctic College programs, such as preparatory programs, trades programs, and the Nunavut Teachers Education Program," states the report.

Similarly, financial assistance programs present roadblocks for potential graduates, and the auditors recommend that Family Services "review its financial aid program to ensure that there are no unintended barriers to adult learners wishing to upgrade their education."

In the introduction to the report, the auditors note the Government of Nunavut is not meeting its Nunavut Agreement Article 23 requirement to increase Inuit participation in government employment to 85 per cent, and point to the 1,500 vacant positions.

"Typically, these vacant positions required at least a high school diploma or some form of post-secondary education. Increasing the number of Inuit with high school diplomas or post-secondary education would increase the number of Inuit candidates for these jobs, and for other jobs in the public and private sectors," state the auditors.