Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut March 20, 2017 - 2:30 pm

GN committed to bilingual education: Nunavut minister

Minister defends Bill 37, says it provides for “realistic assessment” of Nunavut's capacity to teach in Inuktut

NUNATSIAQ NEWS
Nunavut’s Education minister Paul Quassa speaks to reporters at the Legislative Assembly March 7 after introducing Bill 37, a series of amendments to the Education Act. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)
Nunavut’s Education minister Paul Quassa speaks to reporters at the Legislative Assembly March 7 after introducing Bill 37, a series of amendments to the Education Act. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)

Nunavut’s education minister, Paul Quassa, responded March 17 to criticism of the government’s newly-tabled Education Act amendments reiterating the government’s commitment to a fully bilingual education system.

Bill 37, tabled March 7 in the legislative assembly, introduced a number of changes to the territory’s Education Act—among them, slowing plans to roll out the use of Inuktut as a language of instruction from Kindergarten to Grade 12, which the 2008 version of the act said should be done by 2020.

The act proposes completing the implementation of Inuktut as a language of instruction from Grade 4 to Grade 9 by 2029, and introduce Inuktut as the language of instruction for Grade 10 to Grade 12 after the minister is able to certify that Nunavut’s teaching capacity is able to allow it.

The department has admitted it cannot meet the earlier goal due to a shortage of teachers who can teach in the Inuit language.

The proposal has drawn criticism from Inuit groups and Inuktut language advocates, who say the new act strips away the language rights of Inuktut-speakers in Nunavut, in a territory where the language is already vulnerable.

“The Department of Education takes its obligations to revitalize and teach Inuit language very seriously,” Quassa said in the March 17 statement.

“The department has consistently communicated its concerns with its current lack of capacity to support Inuktut as a language of instruction,” he said.

“This is the very reason that the proposed amendments to the Education Act allow for a realistic assessment of current instructional capacity, as well as the re-direction of resources to have the most impact in supporting high quality Inuktut language instruction.”

In an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna, a group of 16 academics suggest the proposed amendments are a breach of international human rights, given the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is supposed to guarantee Indigenous people a right to education in their own language.

But Quassa said the Government of Nunavut is supportive of the UNDRIP.

Quassa also welcomed input on how to improve the territory’s education system; Bill 37 is now before the standing committee on legislation, he said, where it will undergo legislative review.

“The Government of Nunavut is committed to a fully bilingual education system,” Quassa said, “and I am confident we will create a solid, long-term framework to increase and improve Inuktut for generations to come.”

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