EDITORIAL: Lighten a student’s load this year

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If you want to increase turnout to a community event in Nunavut, there are few rewards that can do the trick quite like a free flight voucher.
Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that the schools in Gjoa Haven would turn to this reward to improve student attendance.
Rewards – or even simple recognition – for student attendance have long been used by Nunavut’s schools as motivation to get students to show up. Sometimes the prize is a bike or an iPod. But flight rewards – one student at each school will win a pair of tickets so they can take a parent with them – are about as good as it gets.
The statistics show the extent of the attendance issue. Nunavut’s students are consistently behind the rest of Canada in their average level of achievement.
In 2016, the Centre for the Study of Living Standards ranked the living standards of the territories and provinces against other countries. For educational achievement, Nunavut ranked behind every other Canadian jurisdiction by almost two years, with students completing 10.9 years of schooling on average, compared to the national average of 13.0, 13.4 for Yukon and 12.9 for the NWT. For average attainment, Nunavut would rank 41st if it were a country.
On a separate measure of expected years of schooling, if Nunavut were a country, it would rank 107th out of 188 countries measured, behind Palestine and Malaysia, and only slightly ahead of Syria. The discrepancy indicates that the quality of education is better here than in these countries but the ability of students to attend is failing.
There are many reasons students are not attending, and most are valid. Food insecurity, lack of support at home, an aversion to the school system, learning difficulties, a legacy of residential schools, and mental illness are common enough in Nunavut that high attendance is a testament to any child who can break through these barriers.
The children who break through have to stick with it day after day, year after year, despite being surrounded by these challenges. They have to do so in a territory where schools open without enough teachers, and often complete the year without having filled all of their vacancies.
Plus, on any given day, students could leave school at night to find their school burned by morning.
It’s up to us as adults to provide the security these students need to succeed.
We can help by ensuring children have food each morning and food throughout the day. By ensuring they have the clothes they need to stay warm and a safe place to sleep at night. By reading to them and helping when they ask for help. And when times get tough, by helping them access the help they need.
In Nunavut, providing these things is harder than it sounds.
As we approach the new year, consider the ways you can offer your support to youth you know to get them to graduation and beyond. Their success will spread throughout our communities and across Canada.
Children who grow up right become contributing citizens who give back. They may need incentives to get them there but seeing them succeed is reward enough for us.

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