Education problems in NWT need to be recognized to be fixed

Graph showing Auditor General of Canada's finding regarding graduation statistics of the Department of Education in the Government of the Northwest Territories.
Education outcomes in the NWT have been far lower in the smaller communities than Yellowknife with the regional centers coming in about the middle, as the numbers in the above graph show. The Education Department is responsible for the schools outside of Yellowknife, in largely Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit communities. The solution to making these numbers better lies with the  Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit leaders who are from these communities. 

Education outcomes in the NWT have been far lower in the smaller communities than Yellowknife with the regional centers coming in about the middle, as the numbers in the above graph show. The Education Department is responsible for the schools outside of Yellowknife, in largely Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit communities. The solution to making these numbers better lies with the  Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit leaders who are from these communities. 

The majority of students outside Yellowknife are Dene, Metis, or Inuvialuit.  Click on the map above to see where the schools and teachers are. (Linked to NWTTA website)

Last month, Statistics Canada said the on-time graduation rate in the N.W.T. for 2019-20 was 46 percent, the lowest figure in Canada (though no rate for Nunavut was provided). Canada-wide, the figure stood at 84 percent.

However honest and dedicated efforts might be, the GNWT can’t fix a problem without admitting there is one. 

CBC’s story N.W.T. grad rates, grades expected to fall in coming years following COVID-19 challenges was based upon a report released in the Legislative Assembly warning of the hit that every parent knew was coming after their children were forced to shelter in place during the pandemic, losing probably a year of instruction out of the two years of school.

This is unlike the education department’s past practice of insisting everything is great in their schools outside of Yellowknife. Department staff are encouraged (if not directed) by their political masters to put the best face on education outcomes in the small communities. Fact is these schools had a big pre-pandemic problem. 

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.

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

The graph above shows the gap between the Auditor General of Canada’s numbers, based upon the GNWT’s raw numbers, and the reporting by the GNWT itself. 

If you click on the graph above, you will see the GNWT was publicizing inaccurate graduation rates until corrected by the Auditor General of Canada.

Now, the GNWT's latest graduation statistics have gone up again to 60 percent

The new graduation rates apparently are buoyed up by something called the Six-Year Graduation Rate. To quote page 14 of the GNWT report: ….the current graduation rate allows students up to six years to complete high school. 

How does the ‘current graduation rate’  allow anything? Were the parents in the small communities asked: Do you want your children to graduate high school after three years or six years? How can Northerners trust any of their numbers?

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.

The latest troubling numbers has to do with attendance rates. The report mentions it once – attendance was difficult to properly maintain in 2019-2020 through to 2021-2022.

A look at the NWT Bureau of Statistics chart on attendance in schools shows the levels in the communities in the high 70s and 80s. This is a giant improvement if true. Except, there is note 3 at the bottom that says: 3. The attendance system defaults to “present” if student information is not entered. This may result in recorded attendance being higher than actual attendance.  

What is the real attendance rate?

Here is the report of the foundational review ordered by the Education Minister,  was compiled by accounting firm in Edmonton. Why would we put the future of Aurora College in to the hands of an accounting firm in Edmonton? 

Ignoring poor outcomes in our community schools gave birth to the polytechnic idea. 

Past ministers of education concealed the state of community school achievements. Doing so gave birth to the polytechnic transformation idea for Aurora College. 

The department neglected Aurora College for decades. When the education and social work diplomas were scrapped by Yellowknife HQ and degree programs brought in, community students weren’t given the skills to handle the course work and the degree programs failed. Taking no responsibility for the failures, the education minister fired the college board, all competent Northerners, and the college president, again with tons of experience in Northern education, and took over.

The polytechnic idea came from an accounting firm in Edmonton hired by the minister to assess the foundation of the college for answers to the degree program failures.  Strangely, the answer in the foundational review was to get more degree programs, a false narrative cabinet embraced enthusiastically and ordinary MLAs accepted without debate. 

Now millions of education dollars and valuable department staff time are being put into the misguided, unsustainable goal of a polytechnic university

The need for growing more Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit teachers and money for the communities is ignored. Parents in Yellowknife aren’t worried because they send their willing children to Southern universities. 

So the cabinet praises the misdirected department of education, publically laments the poor outcomes, and marches onward to a polytechnic mirage while parents and teachers in the communities struggle to help students achieve their education and career goals.

It’s no surprise employment levels in the GNWT of Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit staff remain in the low 30 percentiles, matching long standing low community graduation rates. Many other GNWT progressive programs and policies suffer scant uptake for the same reason.

The Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit might want their own school board, just as Yellowknife has, as they have recently done in Yukon and the Mi’kmaw did 30 years ago. Fifty years of Yellowknife control has borne too little fruit.

Mi'kmaq First Nations have achieved success

Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey 2020/21 Annual ReportAlmost 30 years ago, the Mi’kmaq First Nations took over control of their children’s education, either in Reserve schools or Nova Scotia public schools. The Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey Education Authority is now reporting incredible education outcomes. Read about them here.

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