Education, really more than anything, is key to a successful future for NWT communities.
Educated Northerners means northern communities can hire their own teachers, nurses and other government workers without having to drag some reluctant southerner in to do the job, one who may not appreciate or understand the region or the culture.
Educated Northerners would do more than anything to break longstanding cycles of poverty, addictions and young people in trouble with the law. Educated Northerners would ensure the territory goes in the direction Northerners want it to go, not left at the mercy of time-serving bureaucrats from down south.
Unfortunately, northern education is suffering mightily, especially in smaller communities where it is needed most. Education Minister Caroline Cochrane admitted in the legislative assembly earlier this year that school attendance rates in smaller communities is sitting at a miserable 75 per cent – down from 83 per cent in 2008.
In Alberta Achievement Test results in English language arts for 2016-17, only 27.1 per cent of students in smaller communities in Grade 6 and 17.7 per cent in Grade 9 achieved acceptable results.
The combination of low attendance and poor grades is wiping away opportunities before these kids get anywhere close to adulthood.
There are many reasons for this. One, the culture reflected in these tests is not reflected in the Indigenous cultures in which many of these students are raised. Colonialism is alive and well and it can be found in the textbooks and curriculum in which students are immersed.
Another is the long-held mistrust of the education system in Indigenous communities that began with the residential school system with all its accompanying horrors that have reverberated for generations. Children, not withstanding the actions of child and family services, are no longer ripped away from their parents and shipped off to some far away residential school but these institutions have left a nasty impression that’s not going to go away any time soon.
Yet where there is bad news there is also some success, and it is these successes that need to be celebrated and drawn from to foster more success.
The NWT produced 360 high school graduates in 2018, slightly down from the previous year but these 360 graduates offers much room to grow opportunities in the North.
The more graduates the more opportunities for Northerners. The more opportunities the more Northerners can shape the future and change the system for the betterment of the North.
It really is that simply but there is a lot of heavy lifting to get there.
Educators must do all they can to engage students. That means finding ways to make the curriculum relevant to them.
The government and politicians leading them must make sure educators have the tools – and the time — to do the job correctly. A lot of eyebrows were raised two years ago when the GNWT cut classroom hours, and rightly so.
Last but not least, parents must do their part to make sure their children go to school and learn. You might not like the system but it will not change if children in the NWT don’t get the education they need to bring about that change.