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Territory looks to repair education
Goals and issues with the system apply to Yellowknife too, not just community schools

Candace Thomson
Northern News Services
Published Friday, November 15, 2013

The education system in the NWT has shown cracks in its foundation for years.

It is plagued by the second-highest high school dropout rates in Canada, low attendance and low student achievement scores.

The Department of Education, Culture, and Employment (ECE) released its Education Renewal Initiative last week, which was then approved and brought to the legislative assembly by Minister Jackson Lafferty.

One of the renewal's main goals is a focus on strengthening the relationship between schools and communities.

"If you get the relationship between the community and school healthy, if it's working well so the community owns the school, then the things that are dropping will improve," said John Stewart, director of education renewal and innovation.

Two-thirds of information a student absorbs doesn't happen inside the classroom, according to international research, Stewart said. Another focus is out-of-classroom learning, such as field trips and on-the-land lessons, like Yellowknife Catholic School's Do Edaezhe program.

"When we talk about the improvement of students' academic achievement, we don't stop by saying if we improve the curriculum, then we've got the answer," Stewart said. "What we're recognizing is two-thirds of the factors that determine student academic success have nothing to do with school or what you do at school."

Another way to draw the community into learning is by implementing local art and history into the curriculum, a goal which is stated in the framework. ECE plans to achieve this by having more local representatives, elders and officials from aboriginal governments take part in teaching the students about their communities.

Enhanced resources for staff, improved options for early-childhood development and promoting a sense of belonging between schools and students were also included.

Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro, who has long been an advocate for academic issues, said Yellowknife needs more resources for early-childhood development in particular.

"What I think applies to Yellowknife is the need for more resources and family resource centres," Bisaro said. "It's a place where a mom can go with a baby and someone's there so they can talk to them."

Another focus is improving the resources and education offered at schools in smaller communities.

Sixty per cent of those have less than 150 students, however all of the initiatives can be tailored to schools in both small communities and regional centres such as Yellowknife.

"This framework is for all students, almost all of the initiatives would be applicable to and important for all communities for whatever their size," Stewart said. "It needs to be looked at and understood in context, and that while there are absolutely parts that focus on small communities, it is a framework, which is a 10-year guiding document."

Bisaro likes the initiative's inclusiveness because the problems in education are not confined to the smaller communities.

"The problems are the same no matter where you are, but are exacerbated in the communities," she said. "The smaller the community, the fewer the services, the more difficult it is for students to succeed."

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