Unless the Department of Education has drafted revisions to the Education Act and Inuit Language Protection Act that are radically different than the last government’s failed Bill 37, Nunavummiut are in for a long and bumpy ride.
“We question if the Department of Education and the public have the same priorities” – that’s the statement, in bold, upper-case letters, the Coalition of Nunavut District Education Authorities repeatedly makes in its summary of consultations on the Education Act and Inuit Language Protection Act.
Three reports were released before the first reading, scheduled for June 4, of Bill 25, An Act to Amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act: the department’s, Nunavut Tungavik Inc.’s (NTI) and the coalition’s.
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The department, which organized the consultations, focused on four areas, three of which proved troublesome for the previous government: roles and responsibilities of the District Education Authorities (DEAs) and the Department of Education, bilingual education and language of instruction, and a proposed DEA council to replace the coalition.
The fourth item, Nunavut tailored transition regulations, refers to updating regulations adopted from the Northwest Territories. Currently, the Commissioner of Nunavut has the authority to make transitional regulations under the Act and the department would like to see that authority transferred to the minister of Education. The department reports this topic did not draw much discussion, and the coalition counted 13 statements.
As the coalition notes, overall, 11 per cent of statements were in response to department proposals, while 89 per cent focused on DEA and public concerns. In total, the coalition counted 974 statements across the territory.
“During the consultations, Nunavummiut expressed concerns on issues that went beyond the proposals. Much of this feedback will guide the future direction of the Department of Education’s policies, programs and planning,” the department states in its report.
Summarized by the coalition, these include: the Nunavut Teacher Education Program, human resources and training, Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, and policies and facilities.
Department proposals don’t gain traction
It’s not surprising that many of the proposals the department presented did not impress. As both the coalition and NTI point out, amendments proposed in the previous government’s failed Bill 37 served as proposals during the 25-community consultations.
Read the Department of Education’s proposals to amend the Education Act and Inuit Language Protection Act:
“People were concerned that it appeared that Bill 37 was being repeated,” states the coalition.
“One participant exclaimed, ‘This is so discouraging. It took us over three hours to do up our written submission to Bill 37. Can’t you just take our previous submission and use it?'”
In its report, the department acknowledges this disappointment.
“Overall, Nunavummiut were happy with the effort to consult with every community. However, they were disappointed that many of the previously proposed amendments from the 2016 consultations were reintroduced,” it states.
“They feel students are not meeting the expected outcomes and worry too many are not speaking Inuktut. Many Nunavummiut indicated that financial resources should be quickly put in place to increase the number of Inuktut-speaking teachers and the number of teaching resources supporting Inuktut instruction.”
As NTI notes in its report, much of the feedback that came out of the consultations echoes what it has stated for some years, as well as what was communicated via 40 written submissions by deadline in April 2017 from DEAs, Inuit organizations and individuals — all but one criticizing Bill 37.
“Given the overwhelming lack of consensus in support of the bill in such areas as language of instruction, the role of District Education Authorities and increased employment of Inuit teachers, the standing committee is of the view that it should be allowed to fall off the order paper when the current assembly dissolves later this year,” stated Tom Sammurtok, chairperson for the Standing Committee on Legislation, in May 2017.
Click here to read about the demise of Bill 37 in September 2017:
Roles and responsibilities, and a new council
On matters related to DEA powers, Nunavummiut do not want to see those diminished.
According to the coalition statistics, 75 statements were made across the territory indicating DEAs need to keep their current authorities. There were 65 statements about the negative impact of the proposed changes in roles and responsibilities.
“DEAs and Nunavut Inuit expressed opposition to proposals which seek to concentrate authority with the minister,” states NTI.
The department acknowledges the opposition.
The proposal for a new DEA council, rather than a coalition, did not go over that well. While the department’s report uses vague language on this topic in terms of support, coalition numbers show 78 responses, but only nine were in favour of forming a new council.
In fact, 13 comments called for a return to divisional (also known as regional) school boards.
“Ever since the school boards were removed DEAs have been trying to stay standing,” said one participant, according to the coalition report.
“By far the largest group (69) simply supported the coalition and encouraged MLAs to keep this in mind,” states the coalition.
Overall, people stressed the importance of properly resourcing and supporting DEAs.
Bilingual education and language of instruction
On the matter of bilingual Inuktut and French or English language of instruction, the department’s proposal is to “develop a clear plan of action to support the extension of bilingual education deadlines, based on the Department of Education’s Inuit Employment Plan (IEP) timelines.”
However, as one attendee noted, “You (Department of Education) say, don’t worry, we have an IEP plan and path to establishing targets, but we see no path, no plan, to develop and implement language and cultural programs.”
“There were no responses from the public that supported extending the deadline to implement Inuktut teaching and learning. Many outlined to the DoE (Department of Education) the already poor state of Inuktitut,” states the coalition.
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The Nunavut Teacher Education Program came up for discussion and, as the department notes, Nunavummiut stated they want the program reviewed and redesigned – this because of the department’s failure to adequately increase the number of Inuktut-speaking teachers.
However, a review of that program was initiated in early 2017, and has seemingly dropped off the radar. In February 2018, the department told Nunavut News it had the review in draft form and that it would be released once completed.
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Statements were also made indicating Nunavut Inuit are opposed to removing references to Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) from the Education Act, reports NTI.
“The highest number of responses to any single issue was the opposition to the proposal to remove IQ from the Education Act,” states the coalition.
“Fifty people chose to speak to this issue on their own initiative. They underlined the importance of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit and Inuit culture within the education system and in the governing legislation.”
Minister of Education David Joanasie will bring Bill 25 forward June 4 and June 5 for a first and second reading, after which, his department has indicated, a news conference will be held. The intention is to debate Bill 25 during the legislative assembly’s fall session in October.
The Department of Education concludes its consultation report by stating:
“The next challenge is to put forward a bill that best balances the interests of all Nunavummiut. Drafting this bill will require thoughtful analysis, careful planning and balanced decision-making. Nunavummiut will have further opportunities to give feedback once a bill is tabled in the legislative assembly in June 2019.”
NTI president Aluki Kotierk encourages Nunavut Inuit “to get involved, ask questions and share your perspectives. Contact your MLA.”