October 8, 1998
In Nunavik, French is becoming the language of success
The circumpolar world's first francophone society is emerging in Nunavik, thanks to Quebec's education policies.
MONTREAL The circumpolar Inuit world will soon acquire a French-speaking region.
That's because more than two-thirds of Nunavik's students are now being educated in French.
The Kativik School Board serves 2800 students in 14 Nunavik communities. When it was established in 1978, the majority of students had never attended school in anylanguage other than English.
But the trend towards English-language education has completely reversed itself over the past few years.
According to the KSB's Renée Carrier, Nunavik parents say they want their children to go to school in French, because they feel that kids will learn English by listening to television and on the street.
Parents are also influenced by what they see around them. Most professional employees Nunavik, such as doctors, nurses, social workers, lawyers, and government bureaucrats, are now French-speaking Québécois, a phenomenon that makes French look like the language of success.
This movement towards French education has become so pronounced over the past few years that if teacher turnover had been lower, the KSB would have let many English-speaking teachers go.
"As it is, many schools now have multi-level classes taught in English because there are not enough students to fill each class," said Carrier.
The majority choose French
During the last school year, 127 students in Nunavik chose to enter the French stream in Grade 3, the first year that instruction is not offered in Inuttitut. Only 102 chose English.
In Nunavik's Grade 5 classes there were only 88 students studying in English, compared to 159 in French.
Most parents in Salluit are chosing French education. In Ikusik's Grade 3, only six children were studying in English, while 25 were studying in French.
Kangiqsualujjuaq remains the most "English" of all Nunavik's communities, with only three out of 24 Grade 3 students enrolled in French classes.
In Nunavik's larger communities Kuujjuaq, Puvirnituq and Inukjuak, slightly more students are studying in French than in English.
The Individual Pathways of Learning program still continues to have more students learning in English. The IPL program is designed for students who have learning problems or who are at a risk of dropping out of school.
Many English-speaking KSB teachers complain that poor students are routinely channelled to their sector, making it even more difficult to teach multi-level classes.
More Inuit francophones in future
If the current trend continues, bilingual Nunavimmiut will become more francophone than anglophone in the future.
Next year the KSB's adult education centre in St-Hyacinthe outside of Montreal will close down, because there are now enough students to fill French-language adult ed programs in several Nunavik communities.
But these future graduates from the French sector will also face some surprises down the road.
Since the KSB's creation in 1978, the board has been governed by a special education act called "The Education Act for Cree, Inuit and Naskapi Native Persons." This legislation gives the KSB the right to design its own culturally appropriate curriculum and teacher training programs.
And Inuit who live in Nunavik also have the right to chose English or French education for their children after Grade 2.
But many parents do not realize that they are limiting their choices outside of Nunavik if they opt for a French-language education for their child.
"In the 14 Inuit communities, Inuit can do what they want," said Paul Rémilliard from Quebec's education department. "When the child or family leaves Nunavik, we look at the child's last year of education, and if it's in English, he or she can continue in English."
A child studying in French in Nunavik will have to continue studying in French elsewhere in Quebec.
And Inuit who complete their education in French in Nunavik and decide to settle permanently in another region of Quebec will not be able to send their children to English-language schools. They will have to send their children to French-language schools.
All children in Quebec can attend French-language schools, but, with some exceptions, only children who meet certain criteria may attend English-language schools. Usually this eligibility is determined by the language of the parents' schooling.