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GN, NTI want to avoid court action on Education Act

Education Minister David Joanasie hopes to present proposed amendments to the Education Act at the 2019 winter session, as the deadline for an Inuit-language and English or French bilingual education looms.

"It's next year. It's so very close. Of course, we know we won't be able to meet that target," said Joanasie.

Education minister David Joanasie says his department plans to carry out consultations in the fall on amendments to the Education Act, with the goal of introducing proposed legislation at the first sitting in 2019. photo courtesy of Dept. of Education

The legislation states bilingual education was to be phased in for kindergarten to Grades 1 to 3 for the 2009-2010 school year, then phased in to all other grades by the 2019-2020 school year. The reality is some schools transition from Inuit-language to all-English around Grade 4, some at earlier grades and some at later grades.

Joanasie says it's important to be realistic about what resources are in place to hit the target.

"A big part of it is training Inuktut-speaking teachers and, with that, the curriculum to back that up," he said.

"Realistically, is it the next five years, is it the next 10 years that we can work towards? We need our partners involved, stakeholders, workers in the education field to support us in that effort. We all have to agree on plans to move forward."

The now-defunct Bill 37 to amend the Education Act, which passed two readings in the legislative assembly last year, proposed to defer bilingual education by a decade for Grades 4 to 9 and indefinitely for higher grades.

Joanasie wants to avoid the issue becoming mired in court action, which was a fear former education minister Paul Quassa expressed as he fought for Bill 37 to be passed.

"We're trying to do as much as we can not to get to that point," Joanasie said, adding a court action would tie up staff attention and energy away from the task at hand.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk is of similar mind, and goes further.

"We strongly suggest that we establish a working group," said Kotierk, adding NTI has experience with legislation through the years and that experience has demonstrated working together yields positive results.

"I totally agree, we do not want to be taking energy away from the actual work that needs to be done. And I think with that (deadline) looming, and that the current school system will not be meeting its requirements under the legislation, I think it (the deadline) needs to be seen as more of a motivation to figure out how do we get this done.

"What concrete steps can we take to actually get more Inuktut-speaking teachers in our schools? How do we increase the pool of Inuktut-speaking teachers in our communities? I think that in the previous government the idea that we could just push the year to a later year with no concrete plan was what was so frustrating."

Kotierk says if together the government and NTI can whittle down into the details, "then we could have a much better idea of when we could realistically achieve Inuktut language of instruction."

NTEP to see revamp, consultations on Act coming

Joanasie says the education system would require roughly 300 Inuit-language speaking teachers to satisfy that.

The Nunavut Teacher Education Program (NTEP) review initiated in early 2017 has not yet been finalized, but it could potentially address Inuit-language speaking teacher recruitment, and Nunavut Arctic College is currently undergoing an organizational revamp, he said.

"We're looking at a university partnership (for NTEP) that we'll be entering into in the fall. Two universities are shortlisted," he said, though he would not disclose which.

He did say more and more Inuit-language speaking educators in the schools is the goal, and getting NTEP into as many communities as possible. Currently the program is offered in about 10 communities, he said.

Another issue with the Bill 37 amendments had to do with the role of district education authorities (DEAs). The Standing Committee on Legislation at the time received 40 submissions, including from DEAs, as well as from Inuit organizations and individuals. All but one were highly critical.

"There are a couple main focus areas that we want to really zone in on through the consultations, namely to do with the roles and responsibilities of the district education authorities, including the coalition," said Joanasie.

He also says his department will want to hear from the public.

"People are passionate about education. I'm glad they are. It's something everybody wants to improve," he said.