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Inuktut curriculum development speeds up, with field testing scheduled for this school year

The Department of Education's curriculum development division will launch limited field testing for new Inuktitut curriculum elements after Christmas this school year.

Preparing to launch are Inuktut Language Arts 1 (ILA1) and Inuktut Language Arts 2 (ILA2) for kindergarten to Grade 6. The first is for students whose first language is Inuktut, and who are fluent, while the second is for students who are not fluent.

Aqsarniit Middle School (Iqaluit) teacher Kelli McLarty, left, holds up an example of the Nunavummi Reading Series as Leo Ussak (Rankin Inlet) teacher Margaret Okatsiak and Qiqirtaq Ilihakvik (Gjoa Haven) teacher Lorraine Puqiknik discuss strategies for using the books with students.
photo courtesy Dept. of Education

"We've asked regional school operations to give us schools in their region that they felt have really strong community Inuktut, and their schools have the teaching capacity for bilingual educators to be able to teach this as a first-language curriculum," said director of curriculum development Leigh Anne Willard, on the job since 2012 and in Nunavut since 2005.

Similarly, schools will be chosen to field test ILA2. For that curriculum, the division has asked for schools in communities where there has either been severe language loss, where children and parents are speaking English as a first language, or there are children in the community that have moved to Nunavut without any Inuktut background. From January to May, these chosen schools will teach parts of the curriculum the division would like feedback on the most, or that they feel they would like to test out.

This phase is necessary because adults with expertise may think the curriculum works, but they need the teachers and students to verify that it does actually work, Willard explained. The team and the working groups will be working closely with teachers during that time.

"We focused on communication, which is a key objective of all language curriculum, doesn't matter what language it is. And we focused on it on purpose because Inuktut is very much an oral and visual language. Communication can happen through facial expressions. It can happen through some sign language, some body language. It can happen orally," Willard said.

"It's quite a different and probably a bigger task in Inuktut than it would be trying to focus in on English. Although we do focus on communication in English, it's not the same thing. This group has really been thoughtful about that, in that how is Inuktut different fundamentally than English or any other language.

"And what are the things that need to be focused in on in order to strengthen the language."

The expert working groups emphasized that educational Inuktut should be standardized, but they also emphasized a place should be made within the curriculum for strategies and assessments for local dialect. The division will do both.

In 2020-2021, the new curriculum will be optional, but in the next school year schools will be expected to deliver it.

Student assessment and evaluation coordinator with the student achievement division (Pangnirtung) Mary Etuangat, left, acting manager of student assessment and evaluation (Pangnirtung) Shamim Sharif, and Nasivvik High School English and drama teacher (Pond Inlet) Anisa Suno review bilingual education materials as part of Inuktut Language Arts 2 curriculum.
photo courtesy Dept. of Education

Staff vacancies impede progress

Curriculum development for ILA1 began in 2011, languished for a while as work was being done on the assessment side, but picked up again in 2014. Expert working groups are part of the process.

Vacancies in the curriculum division, as well as other divisions, slowed things down. At one point there were three staff with the curriculum division; now there are 11. There are 10 more positions to fill.

"We simply didn't have the capacity to carry on the earlier work, until about 2014 when we were able to staff up again," said Willard.

In 2016, Inhabit Education came on board.

The entire process includes: curriculum development, student and educator resource development, assessment tool development, and field testing and educator training.

For assessment, Northern examples of what student learning looks like had to be developed.

"That's very different than curriculum that's done in many provinces and territories because it has that exemplar component. It really helps identify what to observe, what to expect from students, and to know if they are reaching expectations," said Willard.

"So we're not expecting the student to talk about trees, things that are southern-based, things that many wouldn't be that familiar with except on television."

Willard and Suzie Muckpah, the team lead for Uqausiliriniq, language arts, said once the division had the work done for ILA1, the ILA2 expert working group realized they could complete their work far more quickly.

"When we started the ILA2 group, we started with a lot of ideas already written down. The ILA2 group gelled immediately, took it and ran with it, to a point where we moved much faster than we were expecting," said Willard.

After the working group gathers next week in Rankin Inlet, a draft of ILA2 curriculum will be sent over to Inhabit Education, then returned to the group.

"We're really going to have to boogie to do the field testing on ILA2 after Christmas," said Willard.

The division is also working on an ILA transitional curriculum, and an English as a second language curriculum. The intent for those is to ensure students are successful in meeting graduation requirements: English at a Grade 12 level.

Speedier results for Inuktut curriculum in other core subjects, such as math, social studies science and health, are now also possible with the Inuktut language arts foundation in place.

"We're filling in these positions now. Other core subjects have coordinators and they will use the same process as the Inuktut language arts," said Muckpah. "All subjects are going to be in the same format (and with the same supports) as the ILA."

In addition, another working group, led by Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit (IUT) has been working on vocabulary for the different core subjects, which will be in the language arts curriculum.

"Children are going to become familiar with that vocabulary in their language arts, but it will be used for writing the other core subjects areas," said Willard.

Proposed Bill 25 deadline

Willard mentions that a media outlet asked whether we should let the Department of Education take to 2039 to complete kindergarten to Grade 12 Inuktut curriculum.

Inuit children have the legal right to an education in their own language, but the proposed Bill 25, An Act to Amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act to phase that in grade-by-grade to 2039.

"What they don't understand is how many parts need to be done well, how many languages it needs to be done in, and how unique Nunavut circumstances are compared to other places in Canada. As educators working in the system, we want nothing but the best for Nunavut students. That's what we're trying to do," said Willard.

"And I have to remind myself of this … We've only really been here 20 years, in terms of an education department and system, and other systems have been there for 200 years. And they have 150 people in their assessment division alone and we have two."

Willard adds the work staff is doing has never been done before, and is recognized nationally and internationally.


The expert working groups for curriculum development are different for each set, but generally include the following expertise:

  • Teachers and educator representatives from all three regions of Nunavut
  • Staff from the student achievement and educator development divisions
  • Inhabit Education staff for facilitation;
  • Members from Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit
  • Staff from Department of Culture and Heritage;
  • Department of Education curriculum coordinators
  • Elders from the curriculum Culture and Heritage team

source: Dept. of Education