Peter McKitrick of Coral Harbour has earned his masters in Inuit education and wrote his thesis on reforming Nunavut’s education system.
He wants to finds ways for Nunavummiut to achieve their educational goals without having to move south.
“I just think there’s a lot of problems with education in the North that need to be addressed and worked at,” he said, referring to Euro-Western academic traditions imposed in Nunavut, such as the school calendar being based on agriculture, which he argues exacerbates poor attendance.
Geese hunting season and fishing in the fall would be examples of strong cultural practices in Nunavut that should be accommodated, he suggested.
“There’s also that problem where a lot of the school year should be preparing children for these seasonal activities that are going to be their way of life and should be designed around those activities,” he said.
He’s also opposed to the “authoritative style” of education delivery whereby students are expected to spend much of their day sitting and listening to a teacher.
“There’s a real missing critical thinking and independent thinking piece that’s very valued within Inuit culture and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit… traditionally, we (Inuit) had a more facilitative leadership style. A community leader would be trying to provide the resources necessary for them to learn and succeed.”
Effecting change within the territory’s education structure is the hard part, he admits.
“I’m not sure how the change could come about because of how resistant to change the institutional apparatus is,” said McKitrick, 27. “It would be very hard to get things like the school year changed. It would have to start with the development of curriculum resources that are based around the seasonal activities and local traditional industries.
“The first step is you have to be dismantling the apparatus of systemic racism within a lot of the system,” he said, citing what he feels is too much funding devoted to providing southern educators with homes and travel to the south.
“That’s a huge budget that the school system keeps,” he adds. “Because they put so many resources toward accommodating southern educators, it feels like a lot of the time Inuit educators are left unsupported.”
The Government of Nunavut did not provide a response to questions on these issues prior to publication deadline.
After graduating from university, McKitrick accepted a teaching position in his home community in September 2021 with the intention of making an impact, but he soon got the sense that the system wasn’t placing the value on him that he felt he deserved.
He was being paid an entry-level salary despite his eight years of university education, his masters degree in Inuit education and being a homegrown educator. He filed a formal appeal and he said he lost based on a deputy minister’s decision.
He finished the school year leading the students in his Grade 6 classroom at Sakku School until June. Then he resigned out of principle.
“The children were great. They were the easiest part of the entire experience. They came to school very often and it feels like they made a lot of progress and learned a lot,” he said. “But my classroom did not have a projector. For a while I didn’t have a working computer in that classroom. I was very limited on resources, and one of the things being that I was not actually given any curriculum to teach.”
A student support teacher who was supposed to assist him left unexpectedly during the school year, he said.
McKitrick also said he went to the Nunavut Teachers’ Association (NTA) to advocate on behalf of some of his Inuit colleagues who he said were performing full-time duties on wages based on benefits paid to substitute teachers, but he said the union’s response was to prevent the Inuit educators from acting collectively.
“I really thought that’s a silly policy, that’s really not what unions are supposed to be about,” he said.
He acknowledges that the idea of a teachers union specifically for Inuit educators is being discussed.
Justin Matchett, president of the NTA, said McKitrick was hired on a letter of authority (LOA), which is a process used when fully-qualified teachers cannot be found. Teachers in Nunavut and other jurisdictions are compensated on a pay scale based on years of experience and level of education, Matchett noted.
“Due to the teacher shortage and housing shortage, we are seeing more LOAs being offered to people for classroom positions and not as language specialists, and this is and should be a concern,” he said, noting that language specialists are an exception due to the need for Inuktut speakers. He added that The NTA “worked very hard” to have those LOA language specialist included in the collective agreement to receive a language bonus of up to $5,000 a year.
“When it comes to advocating for our Inuit members, we have changed our election processes to increase Inuit representation within the NTA and we are currently hiring a new staff position in the NTA office designated for an for an Inuit employee to better represents and advocate for the concerns of our Inuit members,” Matchett said.
While having a masters degree is Inuit education is admirable, it does not replace a bachelors degree in education, according to Matchett.
“A teaching degree gives potential teachers the tools and skills they need to be most effective. You are taught about classroom management, learning styles, differentiated instruction and so much more,” he said.
The NTA encourages teachers hired on LOAs to enroll in the Nunavut Teacher Education Program and will even cover tuition fees and 100 per cent of the person’s salary.
“Thus, they can become fully-trained teachers which benefits both them and their students, and to receive an increase to their pay as (bachelor of education) graduates,” said Matchett.
Since leaving his teaching position, McKitrick has landed a job with Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated’s department of research, monitoring and evaluation. He’s the manager of research training there, which is an educator’s role, he notes.
He sees some reasons for optimism within the school system. District education authorities are reorganizing and taking stronger roles to reinforce the importance of Inuit culture within the curriculum. In addition, senior administrators who represent the status quo are beginning to retire and with that new ideas and approaches will flow, he adds.
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