Education Minister RJ Simpson was at East Three School Feb. 21 for a tour of the facilities. In the background the Northern and Dene Games Summit, which Mr. Simpson said he was ‘blown away’ by.

Education Minister RJ Simpson only got a fleeting glimpse of how education is handled in the Beaufort Delta, but he liked what he saw.

“I was here for an hour-and-a-half and I didn’t get to see the whole thing. This is a massive school,” he said. “I’m seeing a few different things that work all over the place. The way our system works is, it’s not centralized. Decisions are made in the regions and it seems to me there’s been a lot more collaboration among the regions in the past few years.”

Simpson was in town as part of a three-day tour of the region by the GNWT cabinet that saw Premier Caroline Cochrane and all six cabinet ministers engage in closed-door meetings with the Gwich’in Tribal Council and the Town of Inuvik council as well as attending a constituency meeting hosted by Mackenzie-Delta MLA Frederick Blake Jr.

The Inuvik Drum reached out to the whole of cabinet for interviews but Simpson was the only minister who was available for an interview during the trip.

He said he was blown away by both the cultural engagement the school had, noting the Northern and Dene Games Summit happening at the time of his visit, as well as the success of the Children First Society’s Gwich’in Language Immersion program as ideas that could be applied to other jurisdictions.

“There’s a lot going on here,” he said. “The Northern distance learning, that originated here, is an awesome program. It’s expanding into 20 schools and is giving students opportunities they would not have in their home town. You can actually graduate in your home town, it gives students who could go to university some help.

“The language program here seems very robust. The French is an immersion, but the Gwich’in and Inuvialuit language programs seem to be doing well here. It was really great to see the immersion program at the daycare yesterday and I think in the coming years that is going to make a real difference in the number of speakers.”

One area he heard concern about was ensuring the schools have enough space for a growing population of students.

“I really rely a lot on what I hear from principals and teachers,” he said. “There are concerns about how much space there is in the school. Even though it’s a new school, the young population of the Beaufort Delta is growing quickly. I guess there’s not enough classrooms to have a class size that would be preferable.

“There needs to be more of a focus on small communities. So we’re working on an action plan to figure out how we can do that. It’s not something we can do alone; it’s going to take a lot of collaboration. The only time education really succeeds when there’s partnerships in the communities and that’s what we’re going to have to do.”

He added part of the action plan would be to look into the current system of peer placement, also known as social passing, which he noted has the right idea but needs more investment at the onset.

“We’re looking at focusing more on early childhood, because the best investments you can make are in that area. When you just start failing kids, you get an increased dropout rate. So peer placement is a way to keep kids in school, so that’s the good part of it, but you have to make sure you’re preparing them for the next grade and catching them up,” he said. “One of the issues we have is students getting to Grade 10 and because of the peer placement or social passing, but when you get to Grade 10 there’s no more adjusting your work plan, that’s been tough on students.

“I think a focus on early childhood would help alleviate those problems. If you’re coming out of Kindergarten, Grade one, two or three and you’re on track, you’re going to not fall behind in the later years and won’t have to worry about catching up.”

He said part of the legislative assembly’s agenda was to renew the Education Act, which was very out-dated and needed to reflect the values of the cultures it aims to help.

“We can’t have an education system and hope that people buy into it. We need to design the system with input from people we need to buy into it,” he said. “That’s going to be a big focus going forward. So there’s going to be some big conversations we’re going to have to have on what we want the education system to look like, who’s involved and what is the structure of it.”

Eric Bowling

Your source for all things happening in the Beaufort Delta. Eric jumped at the chance to write for the Inuvik Drum after cutting his teeth in Alberta. He enjoys long walks, loud music and strong coffee....

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