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Empowering our Children through Education

by Nicola on 2013-05-06


Empowering our Children through Education:

Tackling Low Graduation Rates of Inuit

By Dr Nicola Davies

In the region of Inuit Nunangat, which includes Nunavat, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut and Inuvialuit, low high school graduation rates have become a pressing concern. Before the area was colonized, education had a very different connotation to Inuit. It was a way of life and a means of survival. Learning was in an open environment and knowledge was obtained through watching and interaction with parents, elders and the community, not through sitting in a classroom and writing in books. Children were taught about traditions and life skills pertinent to their culture and survival. After colonization, however, and well into the 1970’s, the Canadian government attempted to assimilate the Inuit population into the contemporary western culture, including the formal education system, without acknowledging their language, traditions and cultural practices.

Photo courtesy of David Ho.

Changes to the educational setting, including being taught in a language other than their mother tongue, and a curriculum that has little or no cultural significance to them, is in stark contrast to their previous way of life. This alone had a negative impact on the graduation rates of Inuit.

The distrust of the education system created by the abovementioned era permeates into the present with a lack of involvement and encouragement for students from their parents, sometimes unintentionally and sometimes due to the huge challenges awaiting their children. As a result, low graduation rates are influenced by students dropping out of school and not attending school regularly. It is imperative that the parents of students, as well as the community, take an active role in encouraging students to graduate. It is also fundamental that the education system becomes more involved in the endeavour to improve the graduation rates of Inuit. The importance of Inuit students graduating from high school goes beyond furthering education through tertiary education facilities. The repercussions of not graduating are felt in many aspects of Inuit society and need to be addressed in order to improve the quality of life for everyone.

Studies have shown that as many as 75% of Inuit living in Inuit Nunangat have not graduated from high school, as highlighted in the Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. This high dropout rate could be due to both the curriculum and the formal setting of schools. In addition to adjustments being needed by the students and by their parents and community, there are other obstacles that need to be overcome by students wishing to graduate:

  • Instruction is often in English and not Inuktitut, making lessons more difficult to understand.
  • Housing shortages have made studying in a quiet environment difficult for students.
  • There is a lack of encouragement from parents (sometimes unintentionally), the community and the education department for students to remain in school.
  • Many of the students who do graduate find that their education is inferior to that of non-Aboriginal Canadians.

Without sufficient high school graduates, access to secondary education is limited. This in turn limits the number of Inuit who can fill economically important positions. The income potential of individuals and households is thus lowered due to low graduation rates. The chances of becoming unemployed are almost doubled when a student does not complete their high school graduation. The unemployment rate is higher in Inuit than in the Non-Aboriginal population and that, combined with a lower general earning potential, has an influence on the housing and the health of the population. In particular, completing high school has a dramatic influence on a person’s health, including being able to get better paying work, being able to live in a healthier environment, and becoming more educated about diseases and healthy lifestyles. Adequate education is the key to improving the quality of life for both students and the community they live in. Indeed, another trend that follows from high school dropout rates is that of violent crimes. Exact statistics are difficult to obtain in Inuit communities due to a failure to report crimes, but this is not a consequence of low graduation rates that should be dismissed.

Photo courtesy of David Ho.

In order to increase the graduation rates of high school students among Inuit, it is necessary to address the unique problems that Inuit students face. Research is ongoing in an attempt to identify all of these issues and create a school system that incorporates traditional beliefs and values into the curriculum. A system of education needs to be formulated that will allow parents to be confident of what their children are being taught and that it will retain the traditions and cultures important to Inuit. The most critical change that needs to occur, however, is for the education system to regain the trust of the parents of students in order for them to become more involved in their children’s education. Without parental involvement, positive transformations in the educational system are unlikely to occur.

The Inuit Education Accord is an agreement drawn up between Inuit of Canada, respresented by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and a number of governmental parties recognising the need to further Inuit education. The Inuit Education Accord has been instrumental in the development of The National Strategy on Inuit Education. This has outlined the key goals for the improvement of Inuit Education systems as supporting children in order to aid them in staying in school, creating a bilingual curriculum that incorporates the Inuit language, providing resources that are pertinent to the worldviews, cultural beliefs and historical records of Inuit, and increasing the number of educators in the schools who can provide this education. Collaboration between Inuit elders, educators and the Goverment of Nunavut has resulted in the introduction of a high school curriculum that incorporates Inuit culture. In addition to this, five schools in the Beaufort Delta now offer an Inuvialuit specific course in social studies, called Taimani 25. This course contributes 3 credits towards high school graduation and covers topics such as the Inuvialuit people’s origins and their ancestry.

All education begins in the home. Not only are parents and caregivers the primary educators in the beginning years of a child’s life, but they are ongoing support for children, teenagers, and young adults. In order for a child to get the best out of their education, they need to be well-rested, well-fed, and enthusiastic about learning. They also need to be able to attend school regularly. This is all dependent on a parent’s active participation and encouragement. Educators need to form solid partnerships with parents in order to improve education standards and graduation rates, and to give the children of Inuit Nunangat a flying start in life.

 Photo courtesy of David Ho.


Author Bio:

Dr Nicola Davies is a Psychology Consultant and Freelance Writer with an interest in health and well-being.  Her publications can be viewed at www.healthpsychologyconsultancy.comAlternatively, you might like to sign up to her free blog:







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