It’s not always easy to draw a line between wants and needs.
Education Minister David Joanasie has heard both during the last couple sittings of the legislative assembly. MLAs representing Kugluktuk and Taloyoak made pitches for
new schools in their communities. In Coral Harbour, the chair of the district education authority would much prefer a new building instead of renovating the existing 1979-
built Sakku School.
We know, of course, new schools come at a very high cost. Cape Dorset’s replacement Peter Pitseolak High School, with its many modern amenities, opened last year. It has earned high praise in the community. Iglulik is also the site of a new high school, but it’s not yet accessible due to a dispute between the GN and the contractor over flooring.
Construction is underway in Kugaaruk, too.
Two of those new educational facilities – in Cape Dorset and Kugaaruk – are necessary due to catastrophic fires. In total, the three new schools represent more than $100 million. The GN doesn’t have that kind of money to throw around regularly.
Joanasie explained to his legislative colleagues that, despite some schools now ranging between 40 and 50 years old, some of those buildings have been overhauled and are still
holding up. They don’t always look good, but they’re still serving their purpose. In other cases, additions are being constructed to accommodate growing student populations.
This is the best the government can do.
On the other hand, Joanasie was caught flat-footed in a well-coordinated barrage by MLAs John Main and Adam Lightstone, with support from Cathy Towtongie. Joanasie was assailed over his department’s failure to implement territory-wide breakfast and lunch programs in schools.
There was no need for the education minister to be in this position. He heard the same appeals in the legislative assembly last year, but he didn’t act on them. Joanasie once
again laid out how things currently work: district education authorities apply for breakfast funding through the Department of Health. There are also admirable teachers and
parents who volunteer to hold fundraisers so they can provide meals and snacks.
The problem with that, as Main pointed out, is it leaves a “patchwork” across the territory. Instead, we need a guarantee of daily breakfasts and lunches for every student in Nunavut.
There’s no disputing the value of a nutritious breakfast. Students who regularly eat a healthy morning meal are more likely to miss fewer days of school, be more alert and better able to concentrate, maintain a healthy body weight and meet daily nutrition requirements, according to the Mayo Clinic, a renowned American academic
centre for health.
Joanasie brought up the lack of cooks as a hurdle. We don’t need gourmet meals and we don’t have to burden teachers with preparing breakfasts and lunches. Nutritious cereals, granola bars, fruit and vegetables, sandwiches and juices would all go a long way
to combat hunger. If parent volunteers aren’t available, a casual staffer could have things set out on a table and cleaned up in a couple of hours.
Sadly, the Government of Nunavut cannot afford to build new schools in most communities. However, the government also cannot afford to let some students continue to remain starved for essential nutrients.