Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut August 21, 2014 - 8:49 am

Nunavut school curriculum changes to start this January

Big new literacy program to kick off in 2015

PETER VARGA
Students at Joamie Ilinniarvik School in Iqaluit and other elementary schools across Nunavut will be the first to experience the full sweep of changes to the territory’s educational curriculum. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)
Students at Joamie Ilinniarvik School in Iqaluit and other elementary schools across Nunavut will be the first to experience the full sweep of changes to the territory’s educational curriculum. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)

Nunavut schools won’t be seeing any major changes to curriculum for the 2014-2015 school year until January 2015, according to school authorities, when the Department of Education begins to roll out a new literacy program in elementary schools.

Changes that the Department of Education announced in March — costing $1 million — included a promise to “update” curriculum for 2014-2015 in subjects related to science, math and language arts, as well as introduce the new literacy program.

The upgrades are not completely new, said Jonathan Bird, executive director of Kitikmeot School Operations.

“It’s resources and documents that have been used in the past,” said Bird, who also filled in as the territory’s assistant deputy minister of education this month.

“A lot of that is really not that new,” he said.

The upgrades are a continuation of the education department’s policy of adopting material from the Northwest Territories and Alberta. Nunavut has worked toward bringing its curricula in line with the western provinces and territories.

This year’s additions are another step in the process.

“We are going to be adopting more materials, particularly from the NWT and Alberta,” said Rob Filipkowski, superintendent of schools for Qikiqtani School Operations in the Baffin region.

“That will affect mostly math and science this year.”

“It’s not a huge project,” Bird of the KSO said, adding that a few courses in math, science and language arts will change.

The Department of Education wants to ensure, first and foremost, that coursework is consistent across the territory, he said.

To hit that goal, the department has delivered the same books and teaching resources to all the schools.

“Folks are purchasing resources that may not match from one school to the next,” he commented. “Resources have been sent out to all the schools, and there will be consistency.”

When schools re-open, “the first month or six weeks tends to be a time when staff are looking at the documents and coming up with their year plan,” Bird said.

This school year’s major change in curriculum won’t come until 2015, when elementary schools adopt a “balanced literacy initiative.”

Staff will have a lot of work to do in preparation for this, Bird said, starting with a principal’s conference next month in Iqaluit.

The three-day September conference will bring principals “up to speed” on the literacy initiative, and further training for staff will follow throughout the fall in preparation for 2015, Bird said.

The balanced literacy program focuses on reading and writing skills. Kindergarten to Grade 4 students will be the first to experience the new method, starting in January 2015.

Grades 5 to 8 and Grades 9 to 12 will follow in successive years.

“Teachers will do some small group work, working with students at their particular level,” Rob Filipkowski said. Staff will assess students’ abilities and progress with a “benchmark system.”

“We know that kids work at different paces, so by focusing on small groups within the class, the teachers can be better able to guide those small groups, and build up the skills to strong comprehension,” Filipkowski said.

“Literacy is pretty complex, it’s more than just the ability to read and write,” commented Bill Cooper, executive director of Kivalliq School Operations.

“It refers to a complex set of knowledge, skills, behaviours, attitudes. Literacy is going to be a real foundation — a fundamental focus for our department.”

Plans are in the works to offer the balanced literacy program in Inuktitut.

“There’s always the ongoing challenge of trying to have materials and supports for our learning that really meet the needs of our students,” Filipkowski said.

Another challenge lies in making sure students actually attend the classes.

Bird noted that schools across the territory are “still working towards 100 per cent attendance.”

Attendance is a persistent weak point in schools across the territory. Nunavut’s deputy minister of education, Kathy Okpik, noted earlier this year that attendance rates were little more than 70 per cent across all schools of the territory.

Measured in terms of classes attended, this amounts to “three full school years” missed in a typical pupil’s education from kindergarten to the end of high school, she said.

Strategies to encourage attendance “will vary from community to community,” Bird said.

The Kitikmeot has the smallest population of students, amounting to about 1,600 attending schools in five communities, where each school has created its own programs to encourage attendance, he said.

Kivalliq has about 3,100 students attending schools in seven hamlets, and Baffin has about 4,800 in Baffin attending schools in all its 13 communities.

“It’s up to the schools and the district education authorities to come up with those plans (to encourage attendance), but we’ve said it needs to be a priority,” he told Nunatsiaq News.

“That goes hand in hand with parental engagement. Engaging families and parents is part of that attendance equation.”

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