Northern communities have constraints such as isolation, small populations, and limited resources. Many communities are challenged to fill positions for educators, administrators, and other child – or youth –supporting jobs. Yet strong community-based champions are critical to help youth acquire the skills they need.
Nunavut Arctic College offers basic adult education, including some basic literacy, pre-trades training and the classroom portion of apprenticeship programs. Community learning centres exist in almost every community, to reach learners wherever they live. Staffing levels vary, but most centres in smaller communities have only one or two staff people. Learning centres are not always fully staffed and there is often little continuity among educators and school administrators.
Other than the challenge of keeping the centres staffed with people with the right training and linguistic skills, the main challenges for community learning centres include:
Basic education, pre-trades and trades courses have a formal curriculum with a set of prescribed skills and related materials that require full-time attendance. This works well for some students, but it does not work well for others who may have other responsibilities that prevent them from attending full-time or regularly. People may have family responsibilities such as child or elder care, hunting or other personal issues to deal with. They can be away from home only for part of each day or during certain seasons.
Many subjects in adult programs lack culturally appropriate materials that are relevant to the learner’s lives. Without relevant materials it is much more challenging for learners to absorb concepts and ideas. Educators may develop some creative new ways to teach with a more adapted curriculum. We find an interesting Northwest Territories example in some of the pre-trades courses at Aurora College in Yellowknife. Students use GIS technology to map their family’s trap lines and then use the GIS-based maps to visit the trap lines and verify that the map is correct.
Nunavut Arctic College is rarely able to offer courses in sequence. For example, students may not be able to take follow-up courses in the year after they complete the pre-requisite courses. They may also not be able to go from basic education classes in one semester or year to pre-trades the following year. Learners may find this frustrating and allow other life events to intercede, and abandon their education and training.
Youth may need to leave their home community to get the education and training they need or to fulfill their employment aspirations. Community learning centres may offer introductory courses or pre-trades training, but most Nunavut learners need to travel to the larger centres or points further south to complete their training and education.
Many students are unable or unwilling to leave their community to take adult learning courses. Those willing and able to attend institutions outside Nunavut often face family opposition to their relocation, requiring determination and courage to actually leave their community to get training and education. In a culture so embedded in community and family, relocation can be daunting.
Relocation is challenged by other factors such as lack of housing or family supports such as day care. Many communities face housing shortages and overcrowding in existing housing, making relocation within Nunavut especially difficult. It is almost impossible to find affordable housing in Iqaluit, and housing availability and cost may be even greater deterrents in southern Canada. People may be reluctant to leave extended family, take their children away from their home community, or may not have access to supports such as child care in a new community.