Nunavut MLAs continue to press Aariak on social promotion
“How can you promote kids when they don’t have the ability?”
The debate over the so-called “social” promotion, as opposed to academic promotion of Nunavut students, persisted this past week when Eva Aariak, Nunavut’s premier and minister of education, continued to fend off questions at committee of the whole discussions in the the legislative assembly March 7 and 8.
South Baffin MLA Fred Schell pursued a line of questioning he started earlier in the week, asking Aariak what would happen if a parent didn’t want their child to go on to the next grade because he or she wasn’t academically prepared.
“My question is, how can you possibly promote kids year after year and then expect them to go to Grade 10, and pass the exams when they don’t have the ability to do it?” Schell said.
Schell told Aariak about a teenage boy he knows from Cape Dorset who “hardly showed up for school” through Grades 7, 8 and 9,” and “they just kept on promoting him from Grade 7 to Grade 8, from Grade 8 to Grade 9, three years in a row.”
When the boy moved to Iqaluit and enrolled in Grade 10, his teacher became alarmed.
“We have a serious problem here. He has got the reading ability of about a Grade 2, and here he is in Grade 10,” Schell quoted the long-time Nunavut teacher as saying.
But under repeated questioning from MLAs, including Nanulik MLA Johnny Ningeongan, Aariak defended her department’s policy for keeping students with their age group — even if they haven’t mastered the academic skills they need to move from one grade to the next.
And such decisions are made by local committees inside the schools.
Schell then asked if parents are required to accept social promotion decisions from the committee, or school team, that makes the decision about whether students advance into a new grade.
“The parent is part of that particular team,” and the placement of a student is reviewed, Aariak said.
The age of the student is a big factor, she said.
And the education department uses “student placement directors” to handle the issue of grade placement.
She acknowledged that when students are enrolled in Grade 8, “if they are always absent, they are going to be behind in math, sciences and English.
But when students fall behind in their work, even if they’ve been moved up to the next grade level, “the committee will try to ensure that he catches up to what he was missing.”
Kathy Okpik, the deputy minister of education, also said the department is reviewing its “student placement directive.”
Poor attendance is one of the biggest problems in Nunavut schools, Okpik said, admitting that, on average, a Nunavut student misses out on three years of schooling.
She said the department will introduce a new system in the fall to track attendance.
When students attend only 10 per cent of classes, when they’re held back, you could find a 13 year-old in a Grade 1 class, as a result of being failed year after year, Okpik said.
Schell responded by saying he agrees that 13 year-olds should not be sitting in Grade 1, but, at the same time, you shouldn’t have somebody in a Grade 9 classroom with Grade 2 skills.
That’s because when they get to Grade 9, they won’t be able to pass any of the exams they need to move ahead.
However, graduation requirements are also being reviewed, Aariak said.
Changes include increasing the number of math credits, possibly increasing the required number of science, or social studies credits, increasing the amount of physical education, and ensuring Inuktitut is part of the curriculum in Grades 10, 11, and 12.
Other concerns from regular MLAs included internet bandwidth issues in schools and accessibility to Facebook and Youtube for educational purposes — which the department has banned.
Amittuq MLA Louis Tapardjuk said he was also concerned about how many Inuktitut-speaking teachers there are in Nunavut’s education system.
“I have always said we need more Inuktitut teachers in Nunavut,” he said.
And in his introductory remarks, John Ningark, the MLA for Akulliq, decried the predominance of English at home and in schools.
“At home, when I hear mothers and parents talking with their kindergarten kids and Grade 7, right up to Grade 12 level, people who are under 50, it is all mostly in English. I hear parents talking to their children by phone, almost always in English.
“Mr. Chairman, people are chatting online only in English, in some cases, eight hours a day, 10 hours a day. I think that is a threat from English to Inuktitut.”