Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut April 03, 2014 - 9:04 am

Nunavut’s poor Education Act record due to “lack of capacity,” schools boss says

Deputy minister Kathy Okpik: “We did underestimate the enormity of the task”

PETER VARGA
Kathy Okpik, deputy minister of education for Nunavut, waits for questions from the legislative assembly’s operations committee April 2 with Bradley Archambault, director of policy for the Department of Education, left, and David Lloyd, assistant to the deputy minister. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)
Kathy Okpik, deputy minister of education for Nunavut, waits for questions from the legislative assembly’s operations committee April 2 with Bradley Archambault, director of policy for the Department of Education, left, and David Lloyd, assistant to the deputy minister. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)

Nunavut’s deputy minister of education admitted in a legislative hearing with the Auditor General of Canada that her department “underestimated the enormity of the task” required to implement the Nunavut Education Act, which came into force in 2008.

“I would be the first person to admit that we did underestimate the enormity of the task,” Kathy Okpik told the legislative assembly’s Standing Committee on Oversight of Government Operations, in the second and final day of hearings on the Auditor General of Canada’s 2013 report on Education in Nunavut.

Okpik pointed to “lack of capacity” among school operations staff, and the lack of qualified Inuktut-speaking teachers as big reasons for the department’s inability to show progress in key areas of education.

The Auditor General’s report identified lack of progress in bilingual education, school curriculum, and inclusive education.

By lack of capacity, Okpik referred to staff members who were assigned tasks connected to implementation of the act, which were “in addition to their full-time responsibilities” on their regular jobs in the department.

The Auditor General’s report refers to this directly. Okpik acknowledged that school superintendents, executive directors and “employees within headquarters take on a lot of the roles where there should have been full-time people,” she said.

Implementation of the act also called for “involvement at the regional school office level,” Okpik said, “and we had principals involved because they knew what we needed to best implement the act.”

Staff vacancies “at the headquarters level” extend to the “implementation coordinator” posting, which has been vacant for two years, Okpik told the standing committee.

She reported that efforts to fill the position have been fruitless.

“We’re on our third competition right now, over the last two years,” she said.

“The other issue is staffing district education authority development officers,” she told the committee, which is made up of regular MLAs. “What we’re doing right now is really trying to close the gap between the vision (for the education act), and what the reality is.

“We’ll continue to try to fill those positions, to enable us to fully and completely implement the act.”

MLAs’ questions about the failure to implement bilingual education — which is supposed to be completed by 2019-2020 — drew a simple answer: the territory does not have enough qualified Inuktut-speaking teachers.

The Auditor General of Canada, Michael Ferguson, was on hand to hear Okpik’s explanation of the department’s two key failings, and said he was glad to hear her “candid” response.

“That tells us that we’ve hit the right issue,” Ferguson said in his final statement at the hearing.

“For (the deputy minister) to say that they did in fact underestimate the work involved to implement this, and to be willing to say it publicly show the level of commitment that she and her people have in the department, trying to implement what the legislature wants.”

Ferguson reminded that the department has a responsibility submit an annual report on its progress to the legislative assembly, to ensure it is covering all information demanded by elected officials.

The Department of Education will appear before the legislature’s operations committee for a related hearing on April 3, which concerns the Auditor General’s 2013 report on safety in Nunavut schools and daycare centres.

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