Kuujjuaq parents educate French first-language kids outside of Nunavik school system
KSB won’t support full-time French instruction
KUUJJUAQ — The parents of 15 French first-language students in Kuujjuaq have decided to educate their children outside of the school system.
That’s because the Kativik School Board says it won’t support the parents’ plan to hire two teachers to teach their children full-time in French.
Instead, the KSB has suggested the students, whose mother tongue is French, should take five hours of French-language tutoring a week outside school hours.
However, by the time Kuujjuaq’s francophone parents learned about the KSB’s stance, on July 24, they had already hired two teachers and ordered supplies for the 2012-13 school year.
Now, it’s not certain whether the KSB will pay any of the bills or if the French students will even receive teaching materials which their parents ordered, they say.
The parents are appealing to newly-elected officials in Quebec City for help.
The parents point to Bill 101, the charter of the French language, which guarantees French-speaking and English-speaking residents of Quebec education in their mother tongue.
Bill 101 says “nothing in this Act prevents the use… of Inuktitut in providing instruction to the Inuit,” but it also states “every person eligible for instruction in Québec has a right to receive that instruction in French.”
Quebec City’s response is still up in the air.
Due to the Sept. 4 election, there’s been no minister of education or minister of aboriginal affairs or justice minister able to weigh in on the situation in Kuujjuaq, although Quebec’s incoming premier, Pauline Marois, plans to announce her cabinet soon.
Then Luc Ferland, the recently-reelected MNA for the Ungava riding, which includes Nunavik, plans to make sure the new government discusses the situation in Kuujjuaq.
Francois Jodoin, 43, who works at the Kativik Regional Government where he is the assistant director of the sustainable employment department, says he just wants his son, 12, and daughter, nine, to receive their education in French.
For some French-speaking parents working in Kuujjuaq, the lack of access to French education in the community has already been a deal-breaker: some have decided not to renew contracts or leave Kuujjuaq to make sure their children are educated in French.
Jodoin, who is involved in PeeWee hockey, with plans to remain in Kuujjuaq, says the lack of French-language schooling could change those plans.
“At the end of the day, despite being political, it’s about the kids, and for the kids, ” he said.
Classes for his and the other parents’ children finally started Sept. 10 in a makeshift classroom in the Kuujjuaq Forum and in an adjoining hallway.
The two-week delay in the start-up of school has proven to be stressful for the students — who have seen most of their playmates in Kuujjuaq return to school.
And for the parents, arranging their children’s education has led to missed days of holiday during the summer, long evenings of work since then, and even physical symptoms, such as headaches, and fatigue.
While the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement give rights to the Inuit to be educated in Inuttitut, non-Inuit still have the right to be educated in French, Jodoin and the other parents assert.
However, getting educational services for children in French in Kuujjuaq hasn’t been easy.
In Grades 1 to 2 at Pitakallak school, all classroom instruction takes place in Inuttitut. In Grade 3, French or English is introduced as a second language.
Over the past few years, mother-tongue francophone students did study partly in French at a classroom in the Kuujjuaq Forum.
The class was paid for directly by the Kativik School Board with money earmarked for the program by Quebec’s education department. That was thanks to a deal brokered when Nunavik youth hockey program’s Joé Juneau, a former NHL star who spent two years in Kuujjuaq, wanted his young daughters to study in French.
For three years, most kids attended local school in the morning and then went to French-language classes at the Forum in the afternoon.
But last year, the KSB decided to change that arrangement, asking the kids to take French classes outside of school hours and schools.
Parents decided to keep their kids with the tutor during the entire day, but they found that overwhelmed the kids and the tutor who had expected to teach only French and math in the afternoon to the mixed level class.
The parents wanted to use the $14,500 a year per child Quebec gives them for “home schooling” to hire two full-time tutors who would teach their kids in French.
However, the school board decided not to support this plan.
“The special provisions currently in place (up to five hours of tutoring per week) are considered to be very responsive to the special needs of francophone students,” KSB director general Annie Popert wrote the parents on July 24. “Your proposal to educate 18 Francophone students in two classrooms with two teachers is not in line with the home schooling parameters as we know them.”
The email came after parents had already received verbal assurances from the KSB that their plan would work — and two qualified teachers had already been hired.
“Having our children educated outside of the schools context has never been our preferred option, and rather represents our last resort considering the obvious failures of the 5 hours proposal in the Kuujjuaq context,” responded parent Mylène Larivière, who works as a lawyer for Makivik Corp., on behalf of the group of francophone parents.
Popert, contacted for comments, has not yet responded to the request for more information from Nunatsiaq News or to La Presse which also published a story Sept. 12 on the predicament.
Ironically, if Kuujjuaq’s francophone children lived in Nunavut’s capital, they would have no trouble finding a French-language school.
The Ecole des Trois Soleils in Iqaluit offers mother-tongue French education to children who qualify for it.