Northern Canada: Leaders looking for answers to improve education in Sahtu communities

Joseph Kochon, Colville Lake’s senior administrative officer, says poor communication between communities and the regional school board has hurt students. (Kate Kyle/CBC)
Representatives from two communities in the Sahtu region, Arctic Canada say they aren’t happy with their quality of education, and they want something done about it.

A meeting was held in Deline earlier in July to discuss education across the region. The meeting, organized by Sahtu MLA Danny McNeely, included discussions on updating the territory’s Education Act, priorities and commitments for the school board, and relationship building.

Delegates from Colville Lake and Deline were present, as well as Renee Closs, superintendent for the Sahtu Divisional Education Council (DEC), and the territory’s assistant deputy minister of education. The meeting gave people from communities in the region an opportunity to speak directly to the Sahtu DEC.

Joseph Kochon, senior administrative officer for Colville Lake, thinks the lack of communication between community governments and the Sahtu DEC — the regional school board — has contributed to the poor quality of education students receive.

Once they apply for a job, they don’t even know how to read or write.

​​​​​​Joseph Kochon, Colville Lake SAO

He said delegates from communities in the region share many of the same concerns.

“From the time the [education council] was established in Norman Wells, our communities never really had any direct engagement … the only engagement they had is with the local DEAs [District Education Authorities],” said Kochon.

The teacher turnover rate is high in Colville Lake, which contributes to students not receiving the proper continuation of their education, Kochon said. (Kate Kyle/CBC)
Diploma in hand, but can’t ‘read or write’

In Colville Lake, the teacher turnover rate is high. This contributes to students not receiving the proper continuation of their education, Kochon said.

He said even students who have graduated Grade 12 and have diplomas aren’t properly prepared.

“Once they apply for a job, they don’t even know how to read or write.”

The lack of preparation, paired with frequent student drop-outs and a low graduation rate, has significantly affected student success in Sahtu communities, Kochon said.

In the hopes of resolving these problems, he wants the education council to begin working with community governments, rather than working in isolation and prescribing things that may or may not benefit students.

“There’s a lot of things that have to be worked on and we want to take a collective approach,” Kochon said.

2 communities unable to participate

Kochon said they hoped more communities would participate, but due to travel expenses and the short notice, no representatives from Fort Good Hope or Tulita were able to attend the full meeting. Tulita Chief Frank Andrew was there, but said he was only able to attend part of the meeting, and so he didn’t want to comment.

However, he said many issues regarding education are common throughout the region’s communities.

In an emailed statement to CBC, Closs said she attended the meeting in order to listen to concerns, build relationships and share information about the Sahtu Divisional Education Council.

In her statement, Closs didn’t directly address the concerns Kochon said were raised at the meeting, nor did she offer an explanation as to why students struggle in the region.

She said the discussions centred on the education council’s plans for all five Sahtu communities this fall, “as well as how we can improve student attendance, high school programming, and communication.”

In an emailed statement to CBC, assistant deputy minister John MacDonald said he was at the meeting to listen and to support Closs.

“I was pleased to be able to attend the meeting and to listen firsthand to the concerns and aspirations of Indigenous leaders related to education in the Sahtu,” he said.

“Being present allowed me to meet leadership and to better understand both their immediate concerns and what goals they had for their own organizations.”

It’s unclear whether there will be another meeting to include community leaders who were unable to attend.

Communities will be able to determine if there has been any real improvements if they see action and results, Kochon said.

“This is a start and the regional superintendent said that she’s willing to attend the Sahtu annual gathering, so hopefully there’ll be more discussions there.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: First Nations in northwestern Canada fed up with education system, after auditor general’s report, CBC News

Finland: New climate studies program coming to schools in Finland, Yle News

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

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