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Changing the “Back to School” experience S

ummer is when we go boating, and fishing, spend beautiful moments out on the land, at camps, and lose track of time, before “Back to School” arrives in the fall. That time will come soon enough when our Inuit youth head

back to a school desk. Unfortunately, “the reality of Inuit education

in Canada is such that too many of our children are not attending school, too few are graduating, and even some of our graduates are not equipped with an education that fully meets the Canadian standard.” That quote is from theNational Strategy on

Inuit Education, launched on Parliament Hill last June. It’s from my Chairperson’s Message in the report, titled “First Canadians, Canadians First” — a tribute to former ITK President Jose Kusugak. I have been working hard over the past

several years to transform the “Back to School” experience for our Inuit youth. Long before the National Summit on Inuit education was held in Inuvik in April 2008, it was clear to me that our children must be better equipped to face an increasingly complex world. Inuit youth have additional challenges to face in this complex world: having to balance Inuit culture with Western culture, Inuit language versus English and French, and Hunting and gathering versus 9 to 5. While many Inuit have succeeded at school,

despite tremendous odds, the statistics show that too many do not complete school. Our research indicates that it is not only the education system that is falling short, but also the context in our Inuit communities, and, critically, support from parents. This is under- standable. In many cases parents do not trust the “education” system, having suffered through the residential school process. So going “Back to School” is fraught with difficulty for both students and parents.

The National Strategy on Inuit Education

had to grapple with these concepts head on. We heard from parents, youth, education leaders and policy specialists from across Inuit Nunangat, and as far away as New Zealand. Our national Inuit education committee

concluded that the key to improving educa- tional outcomes for Inuit lies in three core areas. First, support children to help them stay in school. Second, provide a bilingual curriculum to achieve literacy in the Inuit language and English or French, and include relevancy to Inuit culture, history, and worldview. Thirdly, increase the number of education leaders and bilingual educators. Our vision is to graduate bilingual Inuit

children with the skills and knowledge to contribute with pride and confidence in the 21st century. Realistically, I know that no strategy will walk children to school, make sure they are well fed and rested, and help get their homework done. This falls to parents and guardians. We plan to support parents to achieve the results we are seeking. The Strategy contains ten recommendations for core investments to improve outcomes in

Inuit education. The first is addressed to parents. We want to motivate and promote the role of parents. Our research shows a direct link between parental engagement and student success. Other recommendations address early childhood education, standardizing the Inuit language writing system, creating a university in the Arctic, and increasing the number of bilingual educators. The strategy is online at and I

encourage you to read it. In the years to come, when “Back to School” arrives in September, I want students, parents, and teachers to be full of excitement at that special time. At the conclusion of the 2008 Education Summit in Inuvik, we coined the phrase, “I hear the sound of rolling thunder.” The thunder represents the transformation we are making together as Inuit to protect both our language and culture, but also ensure a brighter future for our children and youth. I hear that thunder again!

Mary Simon


July/August 2011



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