A stronger focus on the education of children in younger years is needed to better develop Indigenous students.
That is among several steps needed in the modernization of the NWT education system, said Tłıcho Community Services Agency (TCSA) board chairperson Ted Blondin.
The GNWT is tackling education modernization, part of a broader effort to improve student educational results in the territory, where there is a wide gap in outcomes between small communities compared to regional centres and Yellowknife.
Part of the modernization push involves the Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE)’s engagement with members of the public to gather feedback on how the junior kindergarten to Grade 12 (JK-12) education system can better meet student needs.
Public surveys can be completed online, through town hall meetings and sent directly to ECE personnel by emailing EAM@gov.nt.ca.
The input will inform a legislative proposal for consideration in the legislative assembly, ECE stated. The engagement period lasts until June 30.
Get early education right
For Blondin, improving the education system will help ECE live up to its stated goal of making students “capable persons,” a key component of its Five Key Competencies: “nurture who you are and become who you want to be”; “contribute to live well together in this interconnected world”; “negotiate change and challenge”; “engage with ideas and respond to their complexities”; and “interpret and express meaning.”
“That means all the studies they take in schools, when they graduate they need to be fully informed to develop and live a good life,” said Blondin. “We have to hit them at the early stages when they’re really learning things. That’s where a lot of work has to happen.
“(Their education) has to reflect the future of where we want to work towards, and where we see ourselves in seven generations down the road and further,” he said. “And building upon a strong cultural basis that we come from, and taking all we can from Western teachings so we can be a strong people (but also) following the Dene Laws.”
Limits of control of education
Under the Tłıcho Self-Government Agreement, the Tłıcho Government has control over education and social services in its communities, and also delivers programs on behalf of the territorial government.
But while Tłıcho communities have that control, they don’t necessarily receive enough support.
“We’re being funded by the GNWT but not given adequate resources to carry out the curriculum,” Blondin said. “If we need funding for language there’s a limit to that funding. But we know in our region, the workload exceeds the funding we get. We’re not getting the resources we need.”
Provision of education was also promised under the treaties, Blondin said, but in practice the GNWT hasn’t always fulfilled its obligations.
“Sometimes the GNWT doesn’t have the right financial or human resources to bring all of that to the quality of service we need in our communities,” he said.
That need extends to the physical infrastructure of education in Tłıcho communities, such as Jimmy Bruneau High School in Behchoko, which Blondin said is outdated.
Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty spoke about that school in the legislative assembly on Feb. 9, when he said it hasn’t been renovated in 26 years. He went on to discuss with Education Minister R.J. Simpson the desire of the Tłıcho Government to have the school replaced and a new one built. Simpson said that’s possible by 2025.
Inadequate housing compounds the issue as well.
Speaking generally about Wekweeti, Blondin explained that housing problems sometimes force the TCSA to hire couples so that two teachers can be housed in one unit.
Dollars and sense
Blondin is encouraged that the new federal budget, released on April 19 allocates $1.2 billion towards Indigenous children nationwide.
That investment includes $726 million over five years to support student transportation, predictable annual funding for First Nations schools and Indigenous control over education by concluding more regional education agreements.
He hopes the GNWT grasps the opportunities the budget offers to maximize benefits for Indigenous education.
“We’re trying to dissect that budget and see how much we can squeeze from that and see what the GNWT can do for us,” he said, “but whenever that happens the small, isolated communities are left with crumbs.”