College in Arctic Canada cancels training program for Inuktitut-speaking teachers this fall

Nunavut Arctic College is not offering a teacher training program for first-year students this fall — a program seen as vital to bringing Inuktitut education to the territory. (Jackie McKay/CBC)
Nunavut Arctic College is not offering a teacher training program for its first-year students this fall — a program seen as vital to bringing Inuktitut education to the territory.

The Nunavut Teacher Education Program (NTEP) is the only teacher training program in the territory and is considered crucial to bringing Inuktitut-speaking teachers into Nunavut classrooms, which will influence the future of bilingual education.

The college’s acting president told CBC it can’t take a new class of students in the program for 2020-21 because it does not have enough instructors. The instructors will be busy teaching a backlog of students caused by the early school closure due to COVID-19. The early closure stopped fourth-year students from graduating in the spring.

John Fanjoy, president of the Nunavut Teachers’ Association, says about 30 to 35 per cent of teachers in Nunavut are Inuit in a given year. Most graduated from the Nunavut Teacher Education Program.

“That’s not good enough, the majority of our teachers in the future need to be Inuit teachers, teaching in Inuktitut to our students. That’s not going to happen the way NTEP is running right now,” said Fanjoy.

“This isn’t a decision we wanted to make.” Rebecca Mearns, Nunavut Arctic College

Bill 25, a proposed act to amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act, aims to have bilingual education in Nunavut schools from kindergarten to Grade 4 by 2026, and for all grades by 2039.

Fanjoy said if those goals are going to be successful, it is dependent on the college graduating even more bilingual Inuit teachers than it currently is.

“More money should be invested into NTEP; more students should be accepted into the program; more students should be graduating from the program with extra supports to help them in their first years in the school system, as opposed to cancel your cohort based on the assumption of COVID-19,” said Fanjoy.

‘The majority of our teachers in the future need to be Inuit teachers, teaching in Inuktitut,’ says John Fanjoy, president of the Nunavut Teachers’ Association. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

He said by losing even one year of graduates from the program is going to greatly impact the territory’s ability to implement bilingual education in the next five to seven years.

During public hearings on Bill 25 in November, Education Minister David Joanasie said over the next 20 years, the program will produce more than 500 Inuktitut-speaking teachers.

Applicants offered to switch programs

CBC obtained a letter from the college’s registry department sent to students who applied for the first year teaching program for the fall semester.

The letter states the decision to not take a new cohort of students was made by the program’s faculty, Nunavut Arctic College senior management, and the college’s university partner, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

The college offers to keep the students’ applications for the following school year, starting September 2021, or to “repurpose” the application for another program.

Fanjoy said that’s “the most damaging piece of the letter.”

“Not only are they cancelling the program, but they are trying to redirect students into other programs out of a career in education,” said Fanjoy.

“Which is completely counterproductive to what we are trying to do in Nunavut today.”

Rebecca Mearns, acting president of Nunavut Arctic College, says the decision to cancel this year’s cohort in the Nunavut Teacher Education Program was ‘not made lightly.’ (Submitted by Rebecca Mearns)
‘We don’t want to close the door’

Rebecca Mearns, acting president of Nunavut Arctic College, says the school is focused on opportunities for post-secondary education and wanted to ensure that students had other options for the interim until they can reapply to Nunavut Teacher Education Program.

“We don’t want to close the door on a learning opportunity for them as an educational institution,” said Mearns.

Students who applied to the first year of the program were informed of the cancellation last week, she said. She said the decision to not take more students in the program this year was “not made lightly.”

“This isn’t a decision we wanted to make, but for operational reasons this was the decision that was made at the program level with our university partner,” said Mearns.

In the college’s reopening plan released this week, it said the lockdown caused by COVID-19 “proved too challenging to the program.”

It said it will focus on students in the remaining years, who will continue follow a curriculum that was revamped last year to be “rooted in Inuktut language and culture.”

Asked for comment about the cancellation of this year’s new cohort, the Nunavut Department of Education said it was aware of the decision and is working with the college to “ensure that the needs of Nunavut’s education system are met.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: International Inuit organization launches new podcast, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Walt Disney Animation Studios to release Saami-language version of “Frozen 2”, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Can cross-border cooperation decolonize Sami language education?, Eye on the Arctic 

United States: American cartoonist says his new book on Canadian Indigenous history helped decolonize part of himself, CBC North

Jackie McKay, CBC News

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