Nunavik students want less “paternalism,” more independence: study
“It is clear that changes are necessary”
Nunavik students agree: the Kativik School Board’s post-secondary sponsorship program offers much-needed support for Nunavimmiut pursuing their studies in the South.
But Nunavik’s post-secondary students also say the program could use some tweaks to better help them transition from north to south.
As part of his research as a 2010 Jean Glassco fellow, Nunavik McGill law school graduate Joseph Flowers recently looked at the KSB’s student services in a report he prepared called “Pijunnanivunnut – fulfilling our potential: A review of the KSB post-secondary students services support policy and program.”
The program offers logistical, academic and personal support to encourage Nunavik students to pursue college, university or other professional qualifications.
As part of his research, which he’s already shared with groups like the executive of the Kativik Regional Government, Flowers interviewed 11 current and former post-secondary students from Nunavik to find out how the KSB’s support affected their education.
In general, Flowers found that students were satisfied with the financial support offered by the KSB, which covers students’ travel to and from the south, accommodation and living expenses while they study.
Students also told Flowers that the KSB’s college preparatory program – which brings students south for orientation weeks before their classes begin — should continue.
“I’m glad I was able to come down and learn the layout of the buildings and where the classes were,” one student said. “...coming down early and learning to use the bus system was very helpful.”
But based on other concerns expressed by current and former students, Flowers writes that “it is clear that changes are necessary.”
Here are some of the issues Flowers identified from his interviews:
• A current post-secondary student should accompany KSB representatives during recruitment in high schools. Post-secondary schools could offer “real-life” insight into their experience by having an actual student on hand, Flowers said.
• Several students shared “disturbing” accounts of active discouragement from KSB counsellors. KSB’s failure to require personal counsellors to have membership in a professional order or to conduct their work by code of conduct is a serious problem, Flowers said.
“I would be told confidential information about students,” one student said. “My counsellors would say things to me about how so-and-so was doing in a course, or how they’re having problems. And I thought ‘that’s not by business, I’m not supposed to know that, and what are you doing with my information?’”
Flowers suggests that the KSB should no longer offer personal counselling to students.
• The KSB should undertake investigations in cases of credible student complaints about student services employees. Students have no recourse for complaint if they feel they’ve been unfairly or inappropriately treated by KSB employees.
• Students want better access to Inuit employees at the school board. Students recognize that non-Inuit employees can and do provide a great deal of support, but would appreciate the comfort level of speaking with someone who has lived a similar experience, in Inuktitut.
• The school board should repeal section 8.6 of its sponsorship policy, which Flowers says undermines any sense of confidence that the KSB may have in students’ success.
“The tone demonstrates that KSB presumes that students are negligent alcoholics, drug dealers, violent offenders and thieves,” Flowers writes. The KSB can still impose a no-alcohol policy in the residence, he said.
But Flowers also reports that some students feel like less is more in terms of support.
The KSB should aim to make itself unnecessary in students’ lives, he says, by building dependence amongst students. That could mean allowing students to sign their own leases or gradually control payments of their expenses.
Flowers calls the KSB approach sometimes “heavy-handed” and “paternalistic.”
“I kind of feel like they treat us like we’re kind of stupid,” said one student whom Flowers interviewed.
Another said “if you want to create the strong independent people for the North, I think it starts from here… and they system is not going to be friendly forever.”
To help nurture better independence, Flowers said the KSB should tell students that they exist as one source of support and guidance, but that other avenues are possible.
The longer students stay in the South, the more resourceful they become, he added — and the more likely to complete their studies.
To ensure that more Nunavimmiut graduate from post-secondary programs, Flowers said the KSB must re-examine its post-secondary sponsorship program.
And to do that, Flowers suggests that the school board create a working group of senior KSB administrators, representatives from the post-secondary program, current and former students, and parents and elders, to develop strategies and policies to improve services.
Flower’s report responds to a gap in research looking into post-secondary education among Inuit and what programs across the country have proven most successful.
One of the few statistics available on Inuit post-secondary education is that only three per cent of Inuit men and five per cent of Inuit women hold a university degree.
In its 2011 National Strategy on Education report, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami noted that “very little published research exists on the Inuit post-secondary experience as a whole relative to the Canadian experience. There is also little published evidence on the reasons Inuit students drop out from post-secondary studies.”
ITK recommended that researchers “identify and remove barriers to post-secondary education and adult training.”
“It is through education that we become independent,” Flowers said.
Read Flower’s report here.
The report is currently being translated into Inuktitut.
You can also see the KSB’s Post-secondary education sponsorship program policy here.