Language and culture issues in Nunavut and the NWT strongly affect education and skills. These issues affect K to 12 formal education and early childhood development, and encompass lifelong learning, including workplace and workforce literacy. For many Inuit and NWT Aboriginal people, formal schooling is part of a negative, racist, colonizing experience.
Many Inuit and NWT Aboriginal children have trouble adjusting from the informal, continuous learning within the traditional, extended family to the more formal school environment. Children make the transition to school more successfully when they have opportunities to participate in effective ‘school readiness’ programs such as the Head Start program. Family literacy programs also have a positive effect.
Many Inuit and NWT Aboriginal families feel a great divide separates home and school. Parents have no connection to the school system. They may have little or no formal education, and some very negative experiences, including residential school.
Educators describe high absenteeism and classrooms with too many students that lack literacy skills to effectively absorb the curriculum.
Learning styles in the formal school system may contradict more traditional learning styles. Traditional learning seems to focus more on watching and doing – learning from those who do it. The formal school system, including many workplace and workforce literacy program, seems to focus more on reading and talking – learning from those who know about it. Programs need more hands-on, practical learning.
Many Inuit and some NWT Aboriginals speak English as a second language. The formal school systems struggle to find a balance and develop bilingual or other programs that enhance learning in both languages. Students often end up with very poor literacy skills in both languages.
People with low literacy skills are not the ‘problem’. They are workers, parents and community members – doing the best they can with the resources and opportunities they have. Many factors contribute to low literacy skills such as:
Territorial and Aboriginal governments face a quandary. How do they preserve culture and language, and at the same time create a competitive workforce? Can they find a balance where it’s possible to have both?