Arctic Canada: Proposed changes to Nunavut education act would phase in Inuktitut over 20 years

Minister of Education David Joanasie held a press conference on Bill 25, which proposes to amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act on Wednesday at the Legislative Assembly. (Travis Burke/CBC)
The government of Nunavut is planning to push the deadline for bilingual Inuktitut-English education for Grade 12 students, 20 years down the line.

It’s proposing to slowly roll out bilingual education from Grades 4 to 12, starting with Grade 4 by 2026 and ending with Grade 12 in 2039 for Inuktitut, 2037 for Inuinnaqtun.

This is according to proposed amendments to Nunavut’s Education Act and Inuit Language Protection Act introduced in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly this week by Education Minister David Joanasie.

Bill 25 was read for the first time on Tuesday and for the second time on Wednesday.

As for what bilingual education means, the deadlines in the bill apply to “Inuit language arts” courses. When and which other classes would be taught in Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun were not specified.

Nunavut’s Minister of Education David Joanasie says the goal is expanded course offerings, but that depends on available curriculum and teachers.

Deadlines for those courses will be specified in government regulations, instead of law.

Joanasie says the bill’s timeline is based on the government’s “actual capacity” for recruiting and retaining Inuktitut-speaking teachers.

Having passed its second reading, Bill 25 now passes on for further review with the Standing Committee on Legislation.

Plea for help

The bill is designed to replace the 2008 Education Act, which mandated bilingual education for all grades by 2019. The 2019 deadline is currently suspended by an interim act that would become void if Bill 25 passes into law.

To the generation of learners who won’t have a guarantee of bilingual education, Joanasie made a plea for help.

“If you’re passionate and want our language to continue, push on, I think this is where we can work with each other, and there’s many opportunities for youth to pursue … post-secondary education, skills development … that are needed to strengthen and preserve our language and we need more of that.”

Bill 25 included phased in deadlines for implementing Inuktitut languages arts classes. (Government of Nunavut)

Joanasie started his remarks to the media by saying that the consultation process to develop this bill started nine months ago. The department and the Coalition of District Education Authorities visited each of Nunavut’s 25 communities.

The report outlining the conclusions from the consultations was released last week.

Some of the potential amendments shopped around during the consultations have been changed or dropped. A clause to require Inuit societal values and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit to be included in the curriculum for all grades was added.

The Department of Education ran consultations on its proposed amendments in all of Nunavut’s 25 communities. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)
Coalition to stay coalition

Many changes have to do with the Coalition of the District Education Authorities (DEAs), which is a non-governmental organization that represents parents voices and has a role in planning school calendars and curriculum.

Originally the government’s plan was to change the coalition to a council and have the Department of Education absorb many of its responsibilities.

But that’s been walked back. If the amendments pass into law as is, local DEAs will retain its right to be involved in the hiring of principals, set calendars (from a choice of three options per region) and powers to plan and implement local curriculum, student attendance policy, and early childhood education.

Funding to the coalition would increase to allow for six positions instead of its current two, but provisions have been added to keep it accountable.

It would be required to submit an annual report to the Legislative Assembly, and the Minister of Education would have the capacity to defund the coalition if it isn’t meeting its obligations under the act.

In an effort to improve teacher recruitment, local DEAs would have two business days to appoint their choices to a hiring panel, to keep the process efficient.

Joanasie says this comes after some schools had late starts this year because they couldn’t hire enough teachers by the expected start of classes.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Inuit organization accuses Nunavut’s education system of ‘cultural genocide’, Radio Canada International

Sweden: Inequality a problem in Swedish schools: UNICEF report, Radio Sweden

United States: Proposed Alaska budget could cut programs to bare minimum, school district says, Alaska Public Media

Sara Frizzell, CBC News

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