Skip to content

Kam Lake candidate calls for foundational review of NWT's education system

Great Slave candidate Katrina Nokleby, Kam Lake candidates Cherish Winsor, incumbent Kieron Testart, Rommel Silverio, Robert Hawkins, Caitlin Cleveland and Abdullah Al-Mahamud discussed the state of education in the territory at an all candidates’ forum hosted by the YK1 school board at St. Patrick High School on Sept. 24. Ezra Black/NNSL photo

Kam Lake incumbent Kieron Testart says the territory’s education system should undergo a foundational review to fight chronic absenteeism and low test scores.

“That way we can analyze what legislative changes we need,” he said at an all candidates’ forum hosted by the YK1 school board at St. Patrick High School on Sept. 24.

Testart said the study would be similar in scope to the Aurora College Foundational Review, which was released last year by the Department of Education, Culture and Employment and recommends transforming the post-secondary institution into a polytechnic university.

He said the review should involve an audit of the entire education system from junior kindergarten to Grade 12.

“There’s a whole lot of stuff we need to do and it’s a complicated problem,” he said.

The incumbent MLA was responding to a question regarding figures that show school attendance is lagging in small communities across the territory.

Data from the education department show that while school attendance numbers are good in the capital, at 89 per cent, average attendance drops to 79 per cent in the regions, while schools in smaller communities only reach 75 per cent.

And there are some indications that attendance figures are still dropping.

Testart applauded a number of recent initiatives, including the junior kindergarten program but said they do not go far enough.

“Those were almost band-aid solutions for the chronic lack of resources,” he said.

Caitlin Cleveland, a businesswoman who is also running in Kam Lake, advocated for the creation of a program navigator position to connect families and government services.

“Our teachers are burnt out,” she said. “I believe education reform needs to start with a systemic reform of our whole government.”

Former MLA and Kam Lake contender Robert Hawkins attributed chronic absenteeism in the communities to the colonial legacy of residential schools.

“I experienced (this) first-hand working as a substitute,” he said. “I can tell you, it’s a struggle.”

Rommel Silverio, another Kam Lake candidate, blamed the problem on high teacher turnover rates and said he would push for “a good recruitment (and) retention program.”

Only Cherish Winsor, another Kam Lake candidate and a mother of five, seemed to have good things to say about the territory's education system.

“My family moved here from Newfoundland,” she said. “One of the obvious differences was the improvement of their education. Our teachers and support staff are all doing an amazing job.”

To improve education in the territory's smaller communities, Winsor suggested distance learning could fill in the gaps for some rural students.