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Pinnguaq receives $1.7 million to spread te(a)ch

Pinnguaq Association founder Ryan Oliver sat on the best news possible for two months before he could spread the joy: the federal government is providing $1.7 million in funding for the non-profit to develop 100 coding lessons and provide them to 15 Nunavut communities.

"They told us mid-November and said you have to never tell anyone until Minister Bains is allowed to because he really wants to announce this one," said Oliver. "That's cool. We've kind of been gearing up since November."

Brandon Bunnie of Pinnguaq, left, works with a te(a)ch student in Baker Lake in 2017.
photo courtesy Pinnguaq

Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains made the announcement Jan. 22.

"Becoming the most innovative country begins with investing in Canadian talent," stated Bains in a news release.

"Our government is committed to equipping Canadian youth with the digital skills they need for the jobs of the future. By teaching kids to code today, we’re positioning Canada for future success across all industries and sectors because these kids will facilitate digital adoption, making all Canadian industries more profitable and globally competitive."

The CanCode fund will invest $50 million over two years across Canada.

Oliver said the association has been able to fill staff positions in advance to ensure it delivers on its commitments.

"We have 15 months, roughly, to implement this massive program," he said.

This new funding means serious growth for te(a)ch, for which Pinnguaq previously received $400,000 from the Arctic Inspiration Prize.

Each lesson will be two to five hours in length.

"At the end of it, something has been created, whether it's a game or an app, or something like that. At the end of this whole thing you have 100 projects done, basically. Each one is based on a different concept, whether it's engineering, math, or pure coding," said Oliver.

"If we get that in place, it's on-line, it's off-line, it's in every community. Someone could do it by themselves and walk themselves through the program. Or they could start a club, which has happened before in Pang and in Arviat."

Oliver said Pinnguaq didn't have enough lessons for those clubs to keep going. This new funding helps with that.

"That's the sustainability side," he adds.

Along with developing the coding lessons, the Pinnguaq team will train teachers between the ages of 16 to 20 years old for two days in each of the 15 Nunavut communities, which have yet to be determined, as well as seven northern Ontario First Nations under the umbrella of the Mushkegowuk Council.

"And in the last three days we'll mentor them in actually implementing it. The idea being that once we're gone, these kids that we've trained can keep it going," said Oliver.

The curriculum will be in Inuktitut, and the majority of the time the language of instruction will be Inuktitut, though coding language is built around English.

Staff has recently increased from four staff to 13, with five positions left to fill.

Chelsea Singoorie, who is trilingual in Inuktitut, English and French, is Pinnguaq's new Nunavut coordinator. She will lead the implementation of Pinnguaq's new project to take te(a)ch to 16 communities in the territory. 
photo courtesy Pinnguaq

Chelsea Singoorie, who is trilingual in Inuktitut, English, and French, has taken on the job of Nunavut coordinator and shares time between Iqaluit and Vancouver.

"She's going to lead the Nunavut implementation," said Oliver.

Pinnguaq is currently searching for a curriculum developer to be located in Iqaluit or Lindsay, Ont.

"The remaining position will be mostly teaching positions, ideally in Nunavut," said Oliver, adding it's tough in Nunavut because Pinnguaq has to compete against Government of Nunavut wages.

"Which, for the life of us, we could never match."

The new project will kick off in Pangnirtung Feb. 12.

Pinnguaq works in partnership with Qaujigiartiit Health Research Centre, Embrace Life Council, Canadian North, SSi Micro, and Computers for Success Nunavut and Computers for Success Canada.