Long-time Nunavut educator critiques territory’s education system in new book

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The last time Nunavummiut heard from retired teacher Nick Newbery was at a 2015 ceremony, when he donated 3,600 photographs to the Government of Nunavut.

(Those photos remain available for download and use by Nunavummiut.)

Now he’s written Never a Dull Moment: Forty Years in Education in Canada’s North (and in a few other places), a 192-page autobiography recounting historic events, as well as his take on Nunavut’s education system.

Retired Nunavut educator Nick Newbery shares his thoughts about Nunavut’s education system in Never a Dull Moment: Forty Years in Education in Canada’s North (and in a few other places), which he will launch at Iqaluit’s Arctic Ventures Friday and Saturday.
photo courtesy Nick Newbery

Newbery had several reasons for writing his collection of personal anecdotes, which takes the reader from Europe, including Northern Ireland, to Toronto, then various Nunavut communities – Taloyoak, Pangnirtung, Qikiqtarjuaq, and Iqaluit.

“I’d had two surgeries last summer and I wasn’t allowed to do anything, so I thought, ‘What do I do with the summer?'” said Newberry.

“Since I do quite a bit of writing, this seemed like a natural thing to do. It was on my bucket list.”

And, he says, the North was good to him.

“You get so much freedom as an individual. Professionally you’re allowed to try out a whole bunch of things you wouldn’t normally get to do down south – whether you’re in health, journalism or education, or whatever – and I was able to do things in education I found rewarding,” he said.

“But I was also appalled by the system which was not serving the needs of many kids I met. It was either disorganized and/or more recently trying to impose a foreign – Alberta – curriculum on a bunch of rural native children.”

Newbery adds that unless you make the education cross-cultural, it won’t work.

“I did that for 17 years in Iqaluit and it worked. I’ve known other teachers who have done it, and it worked,” he said.

“But we don’t seem to do it as an education department.”

The photographer and author says he wanted to express his ideas and have other people read them.

“We don’t discuss education very much. We leave it to the bureaucrats and the bureaucrats are out of touch. (They) can’t sit in their ivory towers and tell everybody how to do things. They need to talk to the teachers on the front line,” he says.

Newbery is further appalled by the territory’s graduation rate.

“That’s telling you something. They’re walking, and why are they walking? There’s lots of reasons, but one of the major reasons would be that the curriculum is totally unsuitable. The other thing we need to do is to orientate new teachers so that they know what they’re getting into before they get there,” he said.

“Thirdly, we need to bring parents into the picture more and make them realize, ‘Look, you’ve got to push. You’ve got to encourage.’ And I think the DEAs (district education authorities) could do a lot of that for us.”

Newbery realizes his book will not change the world.

“But I don’t find anybody really writing about education and criticizing it, or critiquing it. The teachers’ association – which is a neutral body and can criticize government, which individual teachers can’t do – I don’t find says a lot to really inform the public and criticize the government, and list options,” he said.

“So what are we left with? The DEAs really represent their locale and they don’t get together very much. So, I wrote a book. I wanted people to think about these things.”

He says he tried to make the book fun and interesting, and provide real-life examples of what could be done. He wants Nunavummiut to read Never a Dull Moment.

“It’s their children. It’s their system. If people don’t start thinking and discussing, and getting a little annoyed about it, it’s not going to change,” said Newbery.

Newbery launches his book at Arctic Ventures in Iqaluit this weekend – at 5 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday.

The book will be available for purchase at that location or it can be ordered from Newbery himself.