Kativik School Board launches land programs in four Nunavik communities
"Once they’re out on the land, students become really competent"
Nunavik students are back in the classroom across the region this week, but a handful of communities will see some changes to their school calendars in 2014-15.
That’s because the Kativik School Board has approved a pilot project in four communities that hopes to better respond to the cultural needs of its students.
As part of this year’s pilot project, the school board will shorten the school year and move its cultural programs out of the classroom and onto the land, said the KSB’s executive director, Annie Popert.
“We’ve known for a long time that our cultural programs could be strengthened,” she said. “We’ve always treated culture the same way as we’ve treated other subjects, but culture is composed of so much more.
“We’re enriching the program by taking the majority of it out on the land, where students can learn survival skills, traditional knowledge and socializing.”
While Nunavik’s curriculum has typically included cultural excursions for its students, the pilot project will experiment with sending students on week-long outings on the land, three times during the school year.
There, culture teachers and elders from the local community will teach students about reading the weather, hunting skills and story-telling.
“In Inuit culture, it’s one thing to be inside and learning [but] once they’re out on the land, students become really competent,” Popert said. “There’s a real sensing of understanding and it’s much easier to teach certain concepts.”
“We think that getting regular breaks from the classroom will really re-energize these students and teachers.”
The new program will rely on the school board’s existing cultural teachers, but will require more staff dedicated to organizing and monitoring the excursions.
Popert said the KSB has submitted its project to Quebec’s education department, although not for approval — under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, Popert said the KSB has the right to modify its programs.
As part of the same pilot, the 2014-15 school year will also end early in the four communities taking part — Kangiqsujuaq, Quaqtaq, Akulivik and Umiujaq.
Each of schools in those communities will see 45 minutes added to the school’s calendar each week to finish the year on June 4, 2015, two weeks earlier than the KSB’s regular calendar, which will finish June 19, 2015.
That’s something the Nunavik teachers union has lobbied for over the last decade.
The four communities selected to take part in the pilot expressed the most interest in the new “cultural” calendar, Popert said, but it’s also been something Nunavimmiut have been talking about for as long as the KSB has existed.
The need to protect and promote Inuit language, culture and identity was also identified as a clear priority in the Parnasimautik consultations that visited Nunavik communities in 2013 for feedback on a plan for Nunavik’s future development, she noted.
The KSB’s council of commissioners voted in favour of the pilot project last spring. Commissioners will discuss the possibility of expanding the calendar to four more communities in 2015-16, the KSB has said.
“But we’ll see how well it goes,” Popert said. “We have a lot to learn this year.”