Weak French-language schooling drives parents out of Kuujjuaq
Nunavik agencies lose talented senior staff
When François Jodoin and his family moved from southern Quebec to Kuujjuaq in 2011, their plan was to stay for several years.
They sold everything they owned in the South and headed to Kuujjuaq, where he took a job as assistant director of the Kativik Regional Government’s sustainable employment department.
But that plan came to a halt this past summer. Jodoin and his wife, both KRG employees, headed back south with their two school-aged children.
“Our plan was to stay much longer,” Jodoin said. “But we felt the education system wasn’t able to give us the same options as we’d had in the South.”
The “option” Jodoin and many other parents hoped to choose — and one they were assured would be no problem beforehand — was first-language French education for their children.
In Nunavik, children are taught in Inuttitut from kindergarten until Grade 3, when they may choose either English or French language streams.
But many francophone parents, like Jodoin, felt the level of French taught in Kuujjuaq was well below their children’s skill level, and wouldn’t prepare them for post-secondary education in Quebec.
“There are students in Kuujjuaq’s schools that are obviously under-stimulated,” Jodoin told Nunatsiaq News in a recent interview. “And I’m not just talking about students from the South.”
It was hard for the family to leave Nunavik, Jodoin added.
“Professionally everything was fine, and we were socially well-integrated,” said Jodoin, who was active as a volunteer hockey coach.
Over the past few years, mother-tongue francophone students had been able to study partly in French at a classroom in the Kuujjuaq Forum.
The class was paid for directly by the KSB 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 National Hockey League 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 for 2011-12, 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 that Quebec gave them for “home schooling” to hire two full-time teachers who would teach about 15 kids in French in 2012-13.
The dispute came to a head last September shortly after those teachers arrived in Kuujjuaq and their school supplies were on their way to the community for the 2012-13 school year. That’s when parents found out the school board did not support their plan.
KSB director general Annie Popert told the parents their plan to educate a group of students in a separate classroom was not in line with the board’s home-schooling program and refused to support it, saying that would have the effect of creating a publicly-funded private school.
But the Quebec government said the KSB’s home-schooling proposal fell short of meeting the requirement to provide educational services in French to these students, ordering them last September to come up with a new plan.
And the debate appears to have ground to a standstill ever since.
Jodoin said that group of parents had no communication with the school board after last September when the debate was reported in Nunatsiaq News and southern Quebec news outlets.
With little movement through the past year, more than half of that group, which included a Makivik Corp. lawyer and the executive director of the Nunavik Mineral Exploration Fund, gave up and left Nunavik for good, producing gaping holes in a number of senior positions.
“How will this resolve?” Jodoin asked. “I really don’t know.”
A recent statement from the KSB says there have been regular meetings and communication with Quebec’s education department since September 2012 about French-language services offered in Nunavik’s largest community.
But because those discussions are continuing, the KSB said it didn’t want to say more.
“We remain committed to the process and hope to resolve this issue so as to ensure fair and equal services for all students under our jurisdiction,” the KSB said a statement emailed to Nunatsiaq News.
But the KSB has stonewalled on resolving the situation, sources have told Nunatsiaq News, leaving Quebec with a touchy issue that remains the same as a year ago.
As for the conflict, it appears to stem from two different interpretations of how education must be provided in Nunavik.
The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement says “the teaching languages shall be lnuttitut and with respect to the other languages, in accordance with the present practice in the territory,” adding that the use of French and English is left to school board commissioners to determine.
On the other hand, Quebec’s Charter of the French language says every person eligible for instruction in Quebec has a right to receive that instruction in French.
Quebec’s education department says both documents mean that education services in French must be provided.
But the KSB said it would “stand by the terms of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement,” which states “clearly, that in the region of northern Quebec where Inuit live, now called Nunavik, ‘the language of instruction will be in Inuktitut.’”
The school board argued that agreeing to fund home-schooling in classrooms would lead to an awkward, even illegal position for the board, saying the proposal would create “the only fully-funded private school in Quebec.”
This year in Kuujjuaq, a small group of francophone students continue to be taught at a home in the community, by a teacher who is paid directly by parents.
It’s not an ideal situation, parents say, but for them, the program is the difference between staying and leaving Nunavik.
with files from Jane George