While the GNWT steams ahead with its doomed Polytechnic University scheme, there is another plan unnoticed by the media and MLAs.

The Polytechnic Plan Nobody Talks About​

While the GNWT steams ahead with its doomed Polytechnic University scheme, there is another plan unnoticed by the media and MLAs. Let’s call it Plan E. Plan E makes much more sense for Education in the NWT and the Economy.

The details of Plan E are contained in the Polytechnic University Facilities Master Plan on page 80, table 13. There is a price list for renovating and building Community Learning Centres for 31 NWT communities. We need to build these Community learning Centers if we have any hope of having a student population large enough to support a Polytechnic.

Northern Media coverage on the NWT Dept. of Educations Polytechnic University Facilities Plan
Click here to see the real story on the Polytechnic plan
1. The Problem

How did we get here?

In the 1970s, Arctic College (now Aurora College) in Fort Smith offered all sorts of upgrading and adult education programs. Most importantly, it offered two-year Teacher Education and Social Work Diploma Programs. Many Northerners, mainly Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit students enrolled. Then the GNWT, without consultation, changed its basic job requirement for teachers and social workers to degree only. 

At the same time, as Dene , Metis and Inuvialuit students struggled with Alberta-based curriculum in community schools,  standards were lowered instead of providing more support for the early grades. This meant students were not prepared for the degree program course loads offered at what became Aurora College and the degree programs failed. 

T.E.P. section of Grandin College [Teacher Education Program - Fort Smith]
Teachers Education Program section of Grandin College in 1973. 

Six Years To Get Back Where We Started For Aurora College

With a new Aurora College board it’s important to remember what brought us here.

The college has robust roots and held a lot of hope for a lot of people through the eighties and nineties through to today. Its staff of almost 300 can be proud of the students they have served, despite the cloud over the institution.  Read the rest of the story.

Aurora College Enrolment 2013 - 2021, Northwest Territories Dept. of Education

Aurora College Enrollment Has Been In Decline For Too Many Years

As you can see by the above graph, student numbers have been dropping snce 2015. When senior staff at the Department of Education saw this, they panicked. They fired the Northern college board, (Here’s what Julie Green had to say about it) let the Northern college president go and did what they always do when in doubt: They contracted out.

A Southern accounting firm ignored the declining enrolment and said ‘Let’s build a brand new Polytechnic University in Yellowknife with some upgrades to Thebacha and Inuvik to keep them happy.’

Cabinet and all the MLAs got excited and started arguing about where the headquarters would be and where they were going to build the new $364 million campus in Yellowknife. Meanwhile, the students in the communities stopped looking at Aurora College as a solution to their education problems.


Two Different Views On The Education Outcomes In The NWT

Education Minister RJ Simpson and Dehcho MLA Ronald Bonnetrouge 

When you watch this video, you see a stark contrast in how the education system is viewed.

Education Minister RJ Simpson is very proud of education outcomes, insisting all students are tracked, data collected and steps taken to respond to the data. In a longer version, Minister Simpson speaks passionately of success stories – NWT students going on to be engineers, doctors, lawyers even politicians in the assembly.

Truly, there are many shining stars among the Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit. But the majority in any culture are average people.

Dehcho Ronald Bonnetrouge speaks of  the students in his Dehcho communities  who attempt to go to university but find, even though they spent 12 years going to school, they don’t have the education to succeed and they have to come back home.

So Mr. Bonnetrouge is worried about how children are doing in the primary grades. You can see the full discussion and context here.

Overall Grad means six-year and three-year timeframe combined. Click to see a larger version. 

Minister praises education outcomes in Yk and Hay River, Bonnetrouge worried about low rates in community schools

The Education Minister praises education outcomes in the NWT, likely thinking of Yellowknife, and perhaps his hometown of Hay River. As the chart shows, Yellowknife has the highest graduation rate in the NWT at 75 percent for the children of all the non-Indigenous GNWT workers and private industry. 

The Dehcho MLA is talking about the community schools where the Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit graduation rate is 36 percent, as the chart shows. Doubtful the Education Minister is praising those outcomes.

It’s important to understand, there are two independent schoolboards in Yellowknife for half the population of the NWT and GNWT schools in the rest of the communities. The outcomes are starkly different.

Education Minister RJ Simpson and Dehcho MLA Ronald Bonnetrouge in NWT Legislative Assembly


October 17, 2022

“I fully agree that there are students who we can do better to assist. But I don’t want to paint a picture of all students in the territory as underachievers. We have a number of very successful future leaders right now in the JK to 12 system and off at university. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.”

Who Are The Underachievers?

What Mr. Bonnetrouge is trying to point out is that if anyone is underachieving, it’s the Department of Education, if not the minister himself. The numbers that define education outcomes in the communities back up Mr. Bonnetrouge, as does the Auditor General of Canada.

Here's What The Auditor General Of Canada Said:

We found that the department did not have a clear picture of the
performance of the education system, including the department’s progress in renewing the system.

The department did not adequately monitor the performance of the education system and had not yet identified the performance measures it would use to do so on an ongoing basis.

We found that although the department collected some data on student outcomes, it did limited analysis of this data. For example, its monitoring of inclusive schooling and Indigenous language and culture-based education did not provide sufficient information to assess student outcomes.

As a result, the department could not fully assess whether the education system was meeting students’ needs. See the full report here.

AG CORRECTION Grad rates 2020-RNL-NWT-Early-Childhood-to-Grade-12

Grad Rates Were Not Accurate- Auditor General

In 2020, the Auditor General of Canada corrected GNWT graduation statistics. The GNWT department reported an overall graduation rate of 72% in 2017, while the AG’s calculations found the true overall graduation rate to be 44%, far lower for Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit students.

Now as of 2021, there is a New Northwest Territories
High School Graduation Rate
 and graduation numbers have gone up again, buoyed up by the Six-Year Graduation Rate. To quote the GNWT report: ….the current graduation rate allows students up to six years to complete high school 

The six-year option appears to be an admission community students are not getting what they need to meet grade standards K-9. It’s playing catch up later in the students’ critical development into adulthood. Teenage bodies and minds are transforming, drug and alcohol become tempting options and biology is primed for procreation, to put it mildly.

Ignoring Early Years Sets Our Students Up To Fail

Education Minister Simpson got defensive in the Legislative Assembly when Dehcho MLA Ronald Bonnetrouge kept demanding data on student progress.  The NWT doesn’t collect that data until Grade 4.

Mr. Bonnetrouge fears that if we are not collecting data until Grade 4, we will not act on the data and support the students until Grade 4. Is that too late? 

Look what happens in the graph when we don’t support students in the early years. Repeating grades and dropping out skyrocket from Grade 10 to Grade 12. 

If you click on this graph, you will see how the failure to support students in the early years has a very negative effect in Grades 9 – 12. Too many students have to repeat grades and too many simply drop out.  

2. Solutions

How should we move forward?

The challenges the Department of Education faces in community schools must be discussed with complete transparency. While the Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit have a distinct history and culture, parents want their children to get an education that will be equal to any in the country.  

It must also be understood, the more pride students have of their culture, the firmer will be the foundation of their intellectual and psychological growth. Finally, we can expect no progress until we begin addressing the barriers raised by the lack of community healing options and housing.

Education Department staff are directed to inflate education results in community schools. The Auditor General of Canada corrected them. Click on the graph to see the difference.

We Need To Understand Where To Direct Resources - Then Do It

All the progressive policies of the GNWT depend upon people getting a good education, from affirmative action to program delivery to economic development territory-wide.

The emphasis on exaggerating the positives at the expense of students has been going on too long. The graph showing the gap between the blue line and the green line remains as wide as 10 years ago. Little to cheer about. We need an education minister who inform his consensus colleagues and push for action on what needs to be done.

We need all our ministers to lead the GNWT to close the gap revealed in the graph below.


What Needs To Be Done Couldn't Be More Clear

What follows was the conclusion reached by GNWT staff 10 years ago. It’s time their political leaders help them achieve their goals, starting with healing and housing.

Furthermore, changes to education in the NWT are required if we are to better respond to the various needs of students. Data collected
from the fields of education and health both show disturbing differences across the territory between small and larger schools, as well as between the NWT and Canada.

This data points to a very strong link between low academic achievement and poverty, and signals that the highest levels of poverty in the NWT are found in the smallest communities.

Education Renewal and Innovation Framework: DIRECTIONS FOR CHANGE
Education Renewal and Innovation Framework: DIRECTIONS FOR CHANGE 2013