The Government of Nunavut will consult all communities this fall on proposed changes to education and language laws and the role of district education authorities.
The Coalition of Nunavut DEAs (CNDEA), representing regional education authorities was “completely taken by surprise” by the announcement of the eight week consultation, wrote the coalition in a Sept. 6 news release.
“For months, the CNDEA has attempted without success to meet with his Department on the structure, timing and a better method for a collaborative approach to amend the Education Act,” the release states.
The education department announced its proposed amendments to Inuit language and education legislation, and teacher training, and improvements to the Nunavut education system, including an amalgamated district education authority.
Consultations start in the Kivalliq on Sept. 17 and run until Nov. 27, informing draft legislation that will go before the legislature in spring 2019.
The government hopes to build consensus on bilingual language instruction and clarify the role of the DEAs and a reformed coalition, said Minister of Education David Joanasie in a Sept. 4 interview.
“I want to hear from Nunavummiut what they think the DEAs role should be and how the government can work best with the structure that’s there. We don’t want to barge in and say ‘This is how it should be.’ We want hear from Nunavummiut and get their opinions and viewpoints on this,” he said.
Bill 37 failed when it was put before the last assembly, facing opposition from DEAs, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated.
The CNDEA opposed the proposed changes because it did not have enough time to review or respond to the bill. It was troubled by the proposed abandonment of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit principles and the absence of a clear plan for Inuktitut language and teacher shortages.
Based on public feedback, the GN will not amend the fundamental parental right to have children receive a majority of their instruction in Inuit language, said officials Tuesday.
Instead, it proposes amending the Inuit Language Protection Act to clarify the meaning of “bilingual education” to produce graduates fluent in Inuktitut and either French or English.
The department proposes extending the deadline to implement bilingual education until it improves staffing availability through the Inuit Employment Plan. DEAs will be able to select a bilingual education model that matches local teaching capacity, as determined by the department.
“We’re striving for continuing to promote bilingual education. Of course, the capacity issues that we have right now, we can’t meet both,” said Joanasie.
Department proposes short-term bilingual education model
The Inuit Employment Plan will hire and retain Inuit in key positions and give opportunities for Inuit to work toward education degrees while on the job and access education leave, mentorship and language programs, he said.
Amending the Education Act would give the department the authority to implement a short-term bilingual education model, develop uniform curriculum, and allocate language instruction by grade and subject.
The department proposes alleviating administrative pressures on the DEAs by transforming CNDEA and its regional boards into an amalgamated council with “greater autonomy, legal, financial and operational responsibilities,” state departmental goals. Once a new board is established, the CNDEA would be defunded.
The coalition supports local DEAs, which have the authority to choose the language of instruction for schools, establish school calendars, develop a registration and attendance policies, hire and fire teachers and principals and provide early childhood education programming that promotes Inuit culture.
Proposed amendments would transfer those responsibilities to the department of education.
“The (DEAs) do not want the department to make decisions on behalf of the communities. It does not make sense,” said Nikki Eegeesiak, executive director of the CNDEA in an interview.
“We’re surprised that they came up with the same items as they did the last time,” she said.
The new District Education Authorities Council (DEAC) would provide three school calendars for local DEAs to choose from and provide themselves. Any region opting out of early childhood education would be assigned a third-party provider.
The first round of consultations gave little time for DEAs to study and interpret the technical documents. Some communities weren’t consulted because of weather delays or community members being out on the land, said Eegeesiak.
“Hopefully the coalition and the DEAs will have the time to grasp the information and have effective responses to their proposal,” said Eegeesiak.
“There were a lot of good ideas coming from members of the public, and we didn’t see that come out in Bill 37. Unfortunately, I think that’s the main reason 37 was rejected.”
The CNDEA tried to meet with the department about their concerns with the last round of consultations “with no success,” said Jeeteeta Merkosak, chairperson of the CNDEA.
“The DEAs are frustrated that they are not being heard by the department of education,” she said.
Although the department is proposing administrative relief to the DEAs, Tuesday’s announcement, “touches items that are fundamentally policy changes,” said Merkosak.
The ministry is not effectively consulting with communities, wrote Merkosak in a news release.
“The government is making us into complainers by constantly trying to consult with us on proposals they clearly know we object to,” said Merkosak. “We would love to have a chance to talk about positive change, but if we are asked again about Bill 37 we are going to reject it again.”
The proposals are “basically cut and pasted from Bill 37,” said Eegeesiak in an interview.
“They didn’t make any changes. They didn’t listen to the communities. They didn’t listen to the DEAs about why they wanted to keep their power and authority. We’re trying to understand why the current government is using the last government’s proposed policy changes, when clearly, Bill 37 was rejected,” said Eegeesiak.
Nunavummiut will have an opportunity to give their input on the proposals, said Joanasie.
“DEAs are a big stakeholder and partner in delivering education,” he said, adding that the department wants to “work with them at the local level.”
Asked about the shortage of teachers, Joanasie said the department has to tap into the passion Nunavummiut have for language preservation.
“There are many people wanting to keep our language strong and I think we need to tap into that as Nunavummiut, as a government. How do we get these people trained and on their way to becoming teachers?” said Joanasie.