“We hear all the time that Nunavut has a poor education system. It’s kind of disheartening to hear these things … (but) if the parents are involved in their children’s education, they are motivated.”
That’s the belief of Pond Inlet’s Jedidah Merkosak, whose six children have all graduated from high school and taken some level of post-secondary education. One has attained a law degree, one is a pilot and four completed the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program in Ottawa, which was designed to prepare participants for college or university.
“After they have been to the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program, they are more motivated and proud of themselves. They have more self-esteem and more confidence,” said Merkosak.
To keep their sons and daughters engaged in learning, she and her husband would regularly give their children pep talks before they went to school each year and during holiday periods, she recalled.
Merkosak not only guided her own children, she decided to help at the community level as well. She started out when a District Education Authority (DEA) member resigned and she was chosen as a replacement. She went on to become chair of the authority for most of her tenure, which ended around 2011.
While chair, her DEA duties largely revolved around communicating with the principals of the elementary and high schools as well as with the superintendents of Qikiqtani School Operations, she said. She also interviewed more than 100 applicants for teaching positions over the years.
She devoted so much time to her education duties that she sometimes neglected her local sporting goods store, she recalled.
“When you’re there (on the DEA) you feel that students are your number one priority,” she said.
“Our main goal was making sure the students are interested in the schools and stay in school until they complete Grade 12,” she said.
She added that meeting with parents and encouraging interaction between parents and teachers was another important function. Attendance improved as students felt greater support from teachers and from their parents, she recalled.
“They would really appreciate that and stay in school more instead of feeling frustrated, especially in high school,” Merkosak said.
With the recognition of Nunavut as its own territory in 1999, the Baffin Divisional Board of Education was dissolved, resulting in some DEA members feeling “powerless,” Merkosak said. The board had included appointed representatives from each education authority. The solution? The Coalition of Nunavut DEAs was formed afterwards, which Merkosak co-founded and for which she served as chair for a few years. The coalition had input on the development of the territory’s new Education Act.
Even after wrapping up her time with the Pond Inlet DEA and the territorial coalition, Merkosak couldn’t pull herself away from the education system completely. She served as an Inuktitut instructor with early childhood education for a few years and then became a substitute teacher at Pond Inlet’s new Montessori preschool program last October. The Montessori approach is similar to the Inuit way of teaching, according to Merkosak.
“It’s very quiet. The students are not running around, they’re listening to their teachers. These are three and four year olds,” she said of the 15 youngsters enrolled. “After a couple of weeks we started hearing from the parents that their little ones have improved. At first it was hard for us to believe that could be (true) in just two weeks … You want to do more when you hear this positive feedback from the parents.”