Inuit teachers key to Inuktitut curriculum
Nanatsiaq News
Dec. 10,  2004

Inuit teachers key to Inuktitut curriculum

Bilingual education strategy depends on teacher training program


Nunavut's department of education now has a plan to ensure that the territory's schools become fully bilingual by 2020.

To work towards this goal over the next four years, Education Minister Ed Picco tabled an ambitious new strategy last week at the end of the legislature's recent sitting.

But here's the catch.

The strategy says there's an urgent need for large numbers of Inuit teachers throughout Nunavut's school system. It says having Inuktitut-language teachers is "the single most important factor in the success of bilingual education in Nunavut."

"I can have the best strategy in the world, but if I don't have the capacity to deliver the strategy, it will go by the way-side," Picco said.

Picco wants to increase the number of community-based teacher training programs in Nunavut and also boost the Nunavut Teacher Education Program offered at the Iqaluit campus of Nunavut Arctic College.

"Over the next few months, you'll see a bigger focus by me as minister of education to recruiting more teachers who will teach at the junior high school or high school levels," Picco said.

But there's another challenge, too - at the same time, up to 30 per cent of the Inuit teachers in Nunavut are due to retire in the next five years.

"Not only do I have to recruit for the 8, 9, 10, 11 grades, but I also have to replace the retiring teachers," Picco said.

This will take money, although Picco wouldn't say whether the additional funds the strategy needs will come from his existing budget or from other budgets. Wait until February when the new territorial budget is tabled, was his response.

But the strategy gives hints that money may also be coming from other departments in the form of language enhancement programs for children and adults, as well as from partnerships with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

Another key to making bilingualism work at school, Picco said, lies in the home, where parents and children need to speak to each other in Inuktitut whenever possible.

During recent discussions with district educational authorities across Nunavut, Picco said he heard the same thing over and over again: schools only have children for about five hours a day, while families have them for the balance of the time.

"Parents have to speak Inuktitut to their children - then you can expect there's a spill-over to the playgrounds and schools," Picco said.

If schools are going to fulfill their role in creating a bilingual Nunavut, they'll need curriculum and materials for students and teachers. This will take up a good portion of the $3 million a year that the strategy needs to get off the ground.

As it stands now, there is no coordinated K-12 curriculum that combines Inuit and Qallunaat perspectives and no collection of teaching tools that "reflect an Inuit perspective."

However, Picco said much of the curriculum for the lower grades already exists in some form.

"We're not starting from scratch - 80 per cent is already completed or has been rolled out or is ready to be rolled out," Picco said

The strategy calls for the development of programs to teach Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun as a first or second language and English as a first language. It promises the curriculum will "reflect two cultures and three languages." There will also be an "increased inclusion of Inuit culture and values" in curriculum and schools, which will be drawn from research with elders and other groups.

A big job lies ahead because all grades, including kindergarten, must have their appropriate courses and materials as well as staff who are trained and supported to use them.

Schools will have five models of bilingual education, each using different combinations of "languages of instruction," to choose from:

  • Early immersion will introduce children to Inuinnaqtun in communities such as Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay where Inuinnaqtun language fluency has "eroded."
  • Qulliq will be used in communities where Inuktitut is already strong. Students will learn to read and write Inuktitut first and English will be gradually introduced.
  • Dual Language is suitable for communities like Rankin Inlet or Iqaluit, that have many non-Inuit and a high percentage of blended families. Students will receive instruction in language arts and core subjects in their first language (English, French or Inuktitut), learn another language as a second language and receive non-core courses in either language.

Six Nunavut communities will participate in pilot projects to test out these models.

The strategy also suggests some surprises may be in store, such as new high school diploma courses, designed to reduce dropout rates. High school diplomas could be given for non-academic majors, Inuit heritage and culture, pre-trades, performing arts, family and community care studies.

As well, schools may see welcome additional money, thanks to a revised funding formula "to provide more support for teachers." They'll also have a new school profile, review and improvement process called Sivuniksamut Illinniarniq.

The District Education Authorities will be responsible for creating public awareness about the new strategy - by sharing information with families and staff so "Nunavummiut understand and provide feedback" and by encouraging each community to develop its own "language enhancement" program so bilingualism develops in and outside of the classroom.