Quality versus language
Opinions differ on Inuktitut role

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services

Rankin Inlet (May 03/00) - Some parents in Nunavut say they are more concerned with the quality of education being offered than the language it's being delivered in.

Less than a dozen parents turned out for a workshop about the language of instruction in Nunavut classrooms, held last week in Rankin Inlet.

The meeting -- co-ordinated by the Department of Education and the District Education Authority -- was to have centred around how to make Inuktitut the primary language of instruction in Nunavut classrooms.

Toronto university professor Ian Martin, who spoke at the workshop, has been hired by the Nunavut Government to research the language issue.

He said English has enormous power as the main language spoken in the world -- a power that may be part of the reason for trying to implement Inuktitut only being used in Nunavut classrooms.

"After years of neglect, the Inuktitut language can stand up and join the rest of the languages that have control over a province or a territory," said Martin.

"You have a government which, although very young, says it wants to listen to its citizens. If that's so, it's very important for its citizens to speak out early and often."

A number of parents have said they feel intimidated into supporting Inuktitut as the principal language in the classroom. That feeling was magnified by the direction Martin often took when speaking.

"We're interested in pushing, as far as possible, for people's support for an increase in the teaching of Inuktitut in the school system.

"It will require planning, commitment, support and money, but there's no reason why we can't eventually be teaching all high school subjects in Inuktitut."

Brian Zawadski, who chairs the Rankin DEA, said although there were some positives to come out of the meeting, he was disappointed in its tone.

"I had a more specific goal in mind in terms of how we're going to deal with kids here starting in kindergarten," said Zawadski.

"We need to get away from this streaming stuff. You put a kid in kindergarten, being taught only Inuktitut or English until Grade 3, and it creates the wrong impression."

Zawadski said in many respects, Martin was talking about issues that are a generation down the road, but you have to start somewhere.

He said as a researcher, Martin's only supposed to be getting people's ideas to be written up and given to the government.

"People seem to want to keep talking about bread-and-butter issues. They want quality, well-trained and motivated teachers, and materials teachers can work with," said Zawadski.

"We're talking about the same thing. In the end, we want our kids getting a better education, but we also have to solve the language of instruction issue."