Before a news conference June 5, Minister of Education David Joanasie met with Nunavut News to answer a few questions about Bill 25, An Act to Amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act, which saw its first reading the day before in the legislative assembly.
As Joanasie notes in his news conference speech, Bill 25 sees 10 proposed amendments from the previous government’s Bill 37 modified and eight new amendments incorporated, with all proposals related to a new DEA council removed. And while Bill 37 sought to remove references to Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ), Bill 25 includes a new provision that requires Inuit Societal Values and IQ to be incorporated throughout the curriculum at all grade levels.
The intention is to debate Bill 25 during the legislative assembly’s fall session in October.
Read Minister of Education David Joanasie’s speech at the June 5 news conference:
Nunavut News: What has the department accomplished with Bill 25?
David Joanasie: The main thing is that we wanted to give it back to Nunavummiut and hear what they have to say, with the intent that it reflects what Nunavummiut have to say.
NN: In which areas do you think you might get some push back?
DJ: The bill, of course, it’s still up for debate at standing committee (standing committee on legislation) and through the committee-of-the-whole process. It’s up to the standing committee and each MLA to see how much effort we’ve put into this, and hear what Nunavummiut have to say.
I think every community’s different so each MLA, depending on what issues at their local level they might bring up … I don’t want to speculate on specifics that might be brought up. Every provision that we’re presenting, they’re all up for debate.
NN: Did you use Bill 37 written submissions to help you draft Bill 25?
DJ: It’s been five years we’ve been using material from the special committee, the Bill 37 process … Everything has culminated to today. We’ve used as much as we can.
NN: I know the Department of Education has sought to establish standardization and consistency (across the territory) for assessment and measurement. I think we’re all well-aware each community is distinct, unique, and is proud of that, and fights for that right. How difficult is it to negotiate between the needs of an education system and the needs of a community?
DJ: Every community is unique but, looking at our territory as a whole, we are unique as a territory in Canada. I’ll use the example of language and dialectal difference. In our education system we want to ensure our students have the skills and abilities to work with the tool of communicating, with our writing system. Whether Roman orthography or syllabics, these are tools for communication purposes.
We have a variety of dialects. That (standardization) shouldn’t hinder students from keeping their dialects, and using their own terms for educational purposes. I think this is an exchange that will continue onward. The variety only enriches our language. If we have a common, standard writing system I think it will build better understanding between the communities across regions.
It’s often used that Greenland is an example. They have a writing system used in government and schools, and they still have their distinct dialects.
NN: I’d like to understand a bit better, and have readers understand a bit better, what is the difference between “education program” and “local program.”
DJ: In broad terms, education program is the general, overall core programming, what’s across the board. The local program is where each DEA (District Education Authority) … it’s more their prerogative. Based on their priorities they can set little programs as best they see fit. Of course, also for consistency purposes, if a DEA proposes a local program, they send it to the department for permission, and ensure they have the resources that they need.
NN: And there would be a formula for instruction time, the education program would need a certain amount of hours and local programming would be allowed a certain amount of hours?
DJ: Yes. And I think we want to strike a good balance between both. We want to have our children, our students compete and compare to other parts of Canada. We have to look at that, as well. Yes, we are a unique territory in Canada but, also, we are a part of Canada. Building an education system that reflects that is what we’re trying to achieve.
NN: On the phased deadlines for bilingual education, there’s the line “with respect to all other courses, by the application dates specified in the regulations.” Regulations are obviously not written yet – that comes after legislation – but you’re still looking at the same deadline for each grade, for all courses?
DJ: Yes. Based on that deadline, we want to be progressive, of course, this would be looking at our Inuit employment and our curriculum development, both sides, to see, on an annual basis, where we’re at. We want to build on the progress that we’ve made to date. We want to move forward, get Inuit teachers in place.
NN: And Education staff? There are vacancies in the department.
DJ: Yes. It’s a current issue that we’re facing. Moving forward, we’re going to try to address this as best we can.
NN: In terms of DEA (District Education Authorities) powers, in your estimation, does Bill 25, although it keeps some, does it remove some, as well?
DJ: From what we heard from communities and DEAs themselves, we want to support them as best we can. For example, there was a proposal to create a DEA council and with the removal of that altogether, we’ll follow through with adding additional resources, not just financially but with human resources, to the coalition of DEAs.
I think it’s more about clarifying our roles at the ministerial level and at the local level.
NN: What do you say to the person who says “I don’t want you to change the deadline dates in the Inuit Language Protection Act. Why do you have to change the dates?” People are saying that.
DJ: The original date that was set – July 1, 2019 – it was set back in 2008. I’ll use an analogy here. Looking at the Education Act, I’ll use as an analogy, caribou.
Of course we know caribou is one of our valued and delicious country foods. We would love to have it three square meals a day for the rest of our lives. At that time we wanted to be able to provide caribou meat to Nunavummiut, but we know that the numbers of caribou across the Arctic are in decline, and there are pressures on the herds.
I’m looking at it in that sense. Right now, we’re in our current situation. The reality is that we have a shortage of Inuktut-speaking teachers. That’s a big piece we want to reverse. At the same time we hear that language loss is at one per cent a year.
In terms of caribou, we need to protect the caribou herd. With that same intent we are pushing back the deadline (for bilingual Inuktut education), given our current reality. We need to build the capacity in order to reach that level, where we can harvest the caribou, and eat three square meals a day.
NN: In choosing these dates – to Grade 12 for Inuktitut by 2039, for Inuinnaqtun by 2037 – there’s a rationale? It will take you a couple of years to do the curriculum for this grade, then that grade, and at the same time you’re building teachers?
DJ: It’s complex. There are many pieces to that. Curriculum, some either needs to be developed or revised, and on top of that there are resources that need to accompany the curriculum, training for teachers, assessment practices, and getting teachers. Even space for that matter, infrastructure, because we’re a growing territory.
NN: Do you think this time frame will ensure Inuktitut thrives and regains the ground that’s been lost so far? When do you visualize students being fully bilingual?
DJ: Right now it’s 2019. Let’s say, students in Grade 1, by the time they reach Grade 12, 11 years from now, 2030, we’ll be done to Grade 7. By 2039, we’ll be to Grade 12 bilingual, at all grade levels.
NN: Do you think these measures are enough to turn the tide on Inuit languages?
DJ: I think this is where we need to challenge Nunavummiut, in general, and society, in general. The pursuit of education. Looking at our attendance rate. Looking at the historical context. This is an issue we need to continue to address, we want our children and students to want to go to school, to have that determination, that drive and motivation. I think this is where, as a department, as a government, we want to have that space and environment for them for the learning to occur.
The teaching profession, it’s one of the most challenging jobs that you can ever have. Students, essentially you build them to be able to think for themselves. When that occurs, when the teachers fulfil that, that’s a great accomplishment.
I, as a leader, and the government, want to entice, motivate and tell Nunavummiut that education is boundless. If you look at it in a way that it’s a gift that keeps on giving or something that will help you for the rest of your life – I think this is where people can take ownership of it, and follow their passions. Because we need doctors, we need plumbers, we need mechanics, we need teachers, we need nurses. We need so many things.
We need, in the minds of Nunavummiut, “OK. I’m going to become this through education. That’s where education is going to take me.”