Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic April 04, 2011 - 5:40 am

Greenland’s mine school: quality learning, in English

New state high school stresses math, science, technology

JIM BELL
Hans Henrichsen, the manager of the Greenland School of Minerals and Petroleum, tells visitors from Nunavut that Greenland has set out to prove that Greenland's mine worker are as good as any around the world. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
Hans Henrichsen, the manager of the Greenland School of Minerals and Petroleum, tells visitors from Nunavut that Greenland has set out to prove that Greenland's mine worker are as good as any around the world. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
Visitors from the Kivalliq region admire the heavy equipment that the Greenland mining school uses for training. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
Visitors from the Kivalliq region admire the heavy equipment that the Greenland mining school uses for training. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)

SISIMIUT, GREENLAND — For Hans Henrichsen, manager of the Greenland School of Minerals and Petroleum in Sisimiut, there’s only one standard worth reaching for: best of class.

“We are taking the best of the best in Greenland. Our goal is to prove that Greenland miners are as good as any around the world,” Henrichsen said March 31 to a group of visitors from Nunavut.

Agnico-Eagles Mines Ltd. flew the group to Greenland following a two-day tour of the company’s gold mine in Kittilä, Finland, where the Nunavut visitors met numerous highly educated Finns who have landed good jobs in mining.

On the Greenland leg of the tour, the group learned how an Inuit jurisdiction has figured out a way to deliver that education.

Henrichsen said the Greenland government decided in 2007 to build a new mining school in Sisimiut to meet a big national goal: training at least 1,500 Greenlanders for the mining industry.

That’s because Greenland expects seven to eight new mines will emerge there within the next decade, producing lead, zinc, diamonds, iron, gold, molybdenum and rare earths.

In 2008, the school began accepting students. Since then, 123 of 128 people who signed up for training programs have completed their courses, Henrichsen said.

In September 2010, construction work was mostly completed on the new school, which was created through an expansion of an existing facility for training construction workers.

As is common in Europe, students pay no tuition fees and receive a small salary from the government while attending the school

“The government calculates that it’s a good idea to to invest in these guys,” Henrichsen said.

But there’s a catch.

To qualify for admission to the school, applicants must first receive instruction in “mining English.”

That’s because English is now the universal language of the global mining industry. Without knowledge of English, Greenlandic workers cannot compete with foreign workers, Henrichsen said.

And Henrichsen said the school is not interested in applicants with long histories of unemployment.

Instead, he said his school prefers to retrain adult workers with solid job histories in other industries, such as the fishery, who seek a change of career.

“We are not interested in people who can’t get up in the morning. They must be able to get an education and be able to work,” Henrichsen said.

All students start off with a 10-week program called the “common core,” developed in co-operation with the Colorado School of Mines, Norway’s Ole Vig Upper Secondary School, and the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology in Sudbury, Ont.

Henrichsen said this phase of instruction places a strong emphasis on mine safety and paves the way for more specialized training in areas like blasting, heavy equipment, and diamond core drilling.

In the near future, Henrichsen said the school wants to add courses in tunnel blasting and underground search and rescue.

To give them a place to train, the municipal government of Sisimiut has given the school a large area outside of town “about the size of three to four soccer fields” that contains a small mountain that students can use for blasting and digging tunnels.

As a learning exercise, mining school students have already built a road to the mountain. In the future, Henrichsen said he would like to carve an underground classroom out that same mountain.

In addition to the mine training school, Greenland has also established a technical high school in Sisimiut to prepare secondary school students in the country with a high level of education in mathematics and science.

There, students drawn from every community in Greenland live in residence in Sisimiut, where they work through a curriculum that concentrates on mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, social studies and the history of technology, as well as courses in the Danish, Greenlandic and English languages.

This bust of Saint Barbara, the patron saint of miners, greets visitors at the front entrance of the Greenland School of Minerals and Petroleum. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
This bust of Saint Barbara, the patron saint of miners, greets visitors at the front entrance of the Greenland School of Minerals and Petroleum. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
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