Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Nunavut school problems


This is a story I've been reading about for the past week or so with rising concern - so I thought I'd post two stories on it here.

PUBLICATION: The Whitehorse Star
DATE: 2006.04.13
PAGE: 14
BYLINE: Weber, Bob

'Failing' Nunavut schools add to social woes, cost millions

Nunavut's education system is failing, and its inability to produce graduates competent in either English or Inuktitut is one of the main causes of the territory's social problems and crippling unemployment, says a report being released Monday.

The report, written by former justice Thomas Berger, goes on to blame a federal government that hasn't lived up to the requirements of the Nunavut Land Claim. The report says it would take $20 million a year and revamped, bilingual schools to make things right.

''The schools are failing,'' wrote Berger. ''They are not producing graduates truly competent in Inuktitut; moreover, the Inuit of Nunavut have the lowest rate of literacy in English in the country.''

That failure, he calculates, costs some of Canada's poorest people $72 million a year in lost employment - and costs taxpayers up to another $25 million a year in recruiting, training and housing southerners for jobs that could have gone to Inuit.

Berger penned the report as a conciliator in a dispute between Ottawa and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which oversees the implementation of the land claim.

Part of the dispute is over Article 23, which guarantees the Inuit a representative slice of federal and territorial civil service jobs in Nunavut. Inuit make up 85 per cent of the territory's population, but have never occupied more than 45 per cent of territorial jobs and are stuck at 33 per cent of federal jobs.

Ottawa has argued that it has held up its end by making jobs available and offering pre-employment training.

But Berger, in a clear win for the Inuit, says that's not enough.

''It is quite apparent that Article 23, which deals with employment, cannot be discussed intelligently without discussing education,'' he writes.

''The schools are supposed to equip students with the skills to obtain employment. But in Nunavut they have not produced an adequate pool of qualified Inuit.''

DATE: 2006.04.17

Iqaluit students lacking basic skills Report highlights need for literacy and remedial math programs in schools

SARA MINOGUE IQALUIT A report on Nunavut last week by former British Columbia Supreme Court judge Thomas Berger outlined a host of social ills there, but educators say they have long ago grown used to the troubling statistics.

Three in four high-school students drop out before graduating, attendance rates are abysmal and literacy levels are the lowest in the country.

Mr. Berger's report may have grabbed the headlines, but last week also saw the release of a research report put together by the Iqaluit District Education Authority, a volunteer board that oversees four schools in Nunavut's capital.

The status report on students at risk in Iqaluit schools also contains some shocking numbers: 13 per cent of Iqaluit children arrive in kindergarten without the basic skills that five-year-olds are expected to acquire before formal education begins.

In Grade 1, 22 per cent of students are found to be below the level of skills they should have by that grade. In Grade 2, that percentage goes up to 28; by Grades 4 and 5, it is in the 30-per-cent range.

The number of students working below their grade level peaks in Grade 8, where teachers estimate that 53 per cent of students do not have the basic skills expected in that grade.

Moreover, students who fall behind are lucky if they get any kind of remedial math or literacy help, because there are no programs specifically designed to help struggling students.

"This is not a surprise to anyone working in the school system," Katherine Trumper, who oversaw the report, said at a board meeting last week. "But for some reason, the issue of struggling kids in our schools is not getting attention." Ms. Trumper said the figures are based on a survey of about 100 teachers, all of whom use their own judgment to estimate who is "below grade level." The report shows Iqaluit has 99 Grade 8 pupils, 105 students in Grade 9, and 172 in Grade 10, the year students face the dreaded tests from the Alberta curriculum used in Nunavut.

Then comes the dropping out. In Grade 11 this year, Iqaluit has 66 students, and in Grade 12, just 44.

The research reveals a trend that is missing from the usual statistics: students who struggle to understand the material they confront in class and who get little, if any, help to catch up.

In some grades, nearly all the students who need extra help get it. In others, none of the students are getting extra help, even though their teachers know they need it. Over all, only half of students who need extra help are getting it, the report says.

The issue of standardized testing draws heated debate in the North, where many view the different language and culture as a disadvantage for Nunavut students.

Ms. Trumper said there is a connection between poor information and the students' poor results. "There is a relationship, in my opinion, between the fact that students are not being [given standardized tests] and that resources are not available for remedial programs," she said.

Nunavut's Department of Education has opted out of national standardized tests since a 2001 math test showed that just 27.8 per cent of Nunavut's 13-year-olds reached the basic level of skills, compared with 88 per cent of 13-year-olds nationwide. Sixteen-year-olds did slightly better, with just over half reaching the first skill level, compared with 91.5 per cent in Canada as a whole.

The lack of data on student performance is one of the reasons the District Education Authority dedicated itself to research at the beginning of its three-year election term.

The latest research paper follows a status report called Closing the Education Gap, which looked at Iqaluit's school outcomes relative to Canada as a whole.

That report found that Nunavut spends more than twice as much per person on education as the provinces, with poorer results. It also outlined health and social issues that affect students.

Social problems again figure in the latest report in a section on discipline incidents in schools, which are often sparked by students who are frustrated academically.

These figures are highly subjective, but some information stands out.

School principals call a social worker or RCMP officers when faced with cases of suspected child abuse or extreme violence. This happened 12 times in Iqaluit schools in the first five months of the current school year.

"The information in this report wasn't a surprise in some ways, because when you talk to the poor teachers, in a regular conversation, these things come out," said Christa Kunuk, the board's chairwoman.

"To see it on paper, though, is another thing. We're hoping that it will open up people's eyes and say, 'Look, this is the situation.' "Should you be concerned? I think so."


At 4:02 PM, Anonymous smartman said...

Whose fault is it that attendance rates are so low? I would like to know what the average attendance is in each grade.

At 11:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in one of Nunavut's Communities and am tired of hearing people complain about the failure of the 'Federal Government' in relation to the people of this territory. In Alberta, per capita allocation of federal tax dollars for 2009-10 comes in at less than $1,000. In Nunavut, by contrast, this figure reaches over $35,000! Where did that money come from? Certainly not from the tax payers in the territory (it comes from Albertans, British Columbians, Ontarians, and so on). In any case dumping money at the problem will not make it go away. Have we not learned this yet?

I can tell you by firsthand experience and observation that parental expectations are abysmally low here. Attendance at school is not unlike attendance at work, where employees are routinely absent (but, there's always Social Assistance). Very few demands or expectations are placed on anyone here, including the kids. Generally, many home environments do not promote the value of learning or the discipline required to achieve academically. Education is the only way out of this mess, but it has to start at the community level, and in the home, period. Quit ranting against the big institutions, another $35 thousand a year spent per person here would only feed Nunavut’s current social pathologies.


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