Caroline Cochrane: Renewing the Northwest Territories Education System

Yellowknife — October 24, 2018
Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Check Against Delivery

Mr. Speaker, we are continuing with our mandate commitment to implement the Education Renewal and Innovation Framework and Action Plan. I am pleased to report that the education system is improving to meet the needs of the students, educators and families of the Northwest Territories. We are at the mid-point of our 10-year strategy, and we are seeing numerous successes and further opportunities for action.

Mr. Speaker, there are many challenges in delivering education in the Northwest Territories. We are taking a made- in- the North approach, recognizing the unique nature of the communities our schools serve, with their many languages and cultures, their small size and remoteness, as well as the legacy of residential schools. Our initiatives and strategies form a continuum of learning and training; each of them builds upon and complements the others.

Our initiatives and our challenges start with the early childhood level. We have more work to do to address the issues emerging from the Early Development Instrument, or EDI. The EDI is a population-level tool that reliably assesses the developmental health, skills and behaviour, of children at the age of developmental transition from early development to school age. We have not been surprised at the rates of vulnerability identified in the Northwest Territories since the baseline was established in 2014. However, we are seeing some promising results from those communities that have early childhood learning programs through licensed daycares and day homes and from those running the Junior Kindergarten program.

We will continue to administer the EDI and the MDI, the Middle-years Development Instrument, because they highlight gaps that we need to address. We now have actions in place to address each of the domains covered by the EDI. In the EDI domain of physical health and wellbeing, we provide funding and nutritional advice to all schools in the NWT through the Healthy Foods for Learning program. We are addressing the domains of social competence, and communication skills and general knowledge through our Junior Kindergarten and Kindergarten classrooms with exploration, group work and inquiry-based learning. We are giving parents and caregivers consistent information and resources to help with language and cognitive development, which is also furthered in our classrooms. We are employing self-regulation techniques and funding resources for self-regulation in all of our classrooms, starting in JK, to assist with emotional maturity and behaviour.   

We will continue to share EDI data with Health and Social Services and we will continue to work with them on initiatives now underway or in development through the Early Childhood Development Strategy, in order to close gaps and meet our ongoing challenges.

Mr. Speaker, under the banner of Education Renewal and also in partnership with Health and Social Services, the Child and Youth Care Counsellors initiative is underway in the Tłı̨chǫ and Dehcho regions. This initiative gives youth, both students in school and those who may not be attending, access to mental health counsellors. As well, we have contracted a travelling team of mental health counsellors to visit the smaller communities in these two regions to ensure they are also served. This is a critically important initiative.  Many of the requests we get for support from our educators concern mental health needs of children and youth.

The High School Pathways initiative is also under development, with comprehensive engagements planned and piloting beginning in the 2019-2020 school year. The renewed High School Pathways model aims to ensure that high school students and their parents are better informed about and prepared for high school. Through the Pathways approach, we expect students will be more engaged in their learning, as each student’s pathway will be designed to emphasize their competencies and skills. We hope this approach will help improve student attendance and lead to fewer students dropping out. Communications and career planning tools are also being developed to make sure our students are better prepared for the world after completing high school.

Students are also made aware of the history and legacy of residential schools through Northern Studies 10, which is a mandatory requirement for students to graduate. Every year at the New to the North Educators Conference, new teachers are offered training to understand the complex and difficult history and legacy of the residential schools system in the Northwest Territories. We have made that same training available across the Government of the Northwest Territories and at the municipal level, and we have also had other Canadian jurisdictions participate.

Mr. Speaker, it is important that all teachers and students moving through the education system understand the impact residential schools had on generations of Northerners. Many of our students’ communities are still dealing with and healing from the effects residential schools had on individuals and families; the legacy is complex and very personal, and manifests in many ways. This is why we embedded the program into the education system. As Justice Murray Sinclair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission stated, “There can be no reconciliation without education.”

One of the most successful initiatives of Education Renewal, Northern Distance Learning or NDL, has expanded to 11 communities this year. This program offers students access to academic level courses not regularly offered in their community school. Since 2015, 45 students have taken at least one course, and some as many as 10, through NDL, and have graduated. I cannot emphasize enough how delighted I am that students are able to graduate in their home communities, prepared to enter a postsecondary program of their choice.

Mr. Speaker, we are also taking steps to ensure the safety of students and staff. This is why we are revising the school funding framework to provide resources to ensure no less than two full-time teaching positions are allocated to each school. This change impacts our smallest schools in Sachs Harbour, Jean Marie River, Kakisa, Nahanni Butte, Wrigley and Wekweètı̀ which, up to now, have been allocated funding for one teacher position only. Although this may have been sufficient in the past, an increased focus on physical safety, mental health, and student and teacher supports has highlighted the need for this change.

In order to capture the successes and challenges of whole system change, beginning this year, the Department will be undertaking a formal evaluation of Education Renewal. The report will be released during the next fiscal year.

Mr. Speaker, there are tremendous changes taking place in education in the Northwest Territories. We have been describing Education Renewal as a holistic system shift. There is no single initiative that will provide the critical change required to meet the needs of 21st century learners and those that teach them; it is a sum of all the parts. Through all of these changes and initiatives, we are building a more responsive system to address the ongoing challenges of students dropping out of school, attendance, wellness, readiness, competency and opportunity. While we are certainly seeing some successes, I intend to make sure we continue to innovate and adapt to address the needs of our students and educators. 

Ması, Mr. Speaker.