NEWS: Nunavut November 26, 2012 - 6:15 am

Nunavut deputy education minister alarmed at low attendance rates

“If every student attends 70.1 per cent of the time from K to 12, that means they’ve lost out on three years of education”

DAVID MURPHY

Low attendance is the biggest worry for the Government of Nunavut’s deputy education minister, Kathy Okpik.

“This 70.1 [per cent attendance rate in schools], is quite alarming to me,” Okpik told Nunatsiaq News in response to the release of the department of education’s release of its 2009/10 annual report.

The report shows that attendance from kindergarten to Grade 12 for Nunavut students has dropped almost four percentage points since 2001.

“If every student attends 70.1 per cent of the time from K to 12, that means they’ve lost out on three years of education,” Okpik said.

That needs to change — and plans are being put in place to help increase those attendance rates, Okpik said.

“We’re actively working with DEAs and school administration to develop stay in school initiatives and to identify and share our best practices,” Okpik said.

This means implementing things like information technology workshops and land skills classes, as well as other special interest courses.

Okpik said this must happen in Grade 6 to Grade 9, when there is a steady drop-off in attendance. 

But informing parents is a big part of boosting those attendance rates up too, she said.

“Parental engagement for us is a huge piece — hearing from parents and improving programming,” Okpik said.

“One of our biggest goals is parental engagement, and how we engage parents on, not necessarily always to come into school, but how to promote education from within the home,” she said.

But Okpik said her department is getting “slammed” in the controversy over “social promotion” in Nunavut’s schools, but she says Nunavut does not practice social promotion.

That’s when students are passed on to the next grade at the end of the school year, even though they may not have actually passed their grade.

Okpik said she wants to move towards a “continuous progress” model — which means holding children back if they don’t pass their grade.

Getting the word out on that policy is a focus for Okpik over the next year, she said.

Okpik said the department of education has also allocated money to district education authorities to write attendance reports.

“The purpose of this plan is to improve the school with the goal to increase student success. The DEAs have to report on schools and attendance and behaviour and implementation of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit every year,” she said.

However this adds more strain to the already overloaded workload that DEAs have to deal with, something Okpik recognizes is something the DEAs are worried about. 

Okpik said the numbers from the 2009-10 annual report might look better in a few years time. The latest annual report only documents the period up to 2010, a year after the department’s new Education Act was released.

“People want results instantly. And that’s just in our nature. But the act came into force in 2009. You can’t see the benefits of the act right away,” Okpik said.