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Focus on Education


Click here if  you wish to read this article in Inuktitut.

By Teevi Mackay

I have been on my post-secondary schooling journey for almost five years now. I did not get here without having to jump over quite a few hurdles. There actually was a time in high school when a teacher told me that I would not graduate. A time when I needed support the most, discouragement was this teacher’s response.

That worries me and I hope this attitude is no longer prevalent in the North’s education system. I have a lot of heart for young people in the North and I have a lot of heart for education. Educators at all levels, from government and administration through to frontline teachers in the North, are facing huge systemic challenges. Especially so now, with so many young people entering a system that is still very much in transition.

I am enrolled as a fourth year student at Carleton University in Ottawa and set to graduate with a Bachelor of Journalism Honours degree (with a minor in Law) next year and want to encourage young people to try their best in school, even if some may personally feel like they are failing, or are incapable.

There is hope and opportunity. All of us are capable of achieving success if that is what we desire. “Success” is measured by working hard, trying your best, setting goals and following through on them.

I took the Nunavut Sivuniksavut Training Program (NS) before going to university and this really helped prepare me for my further education. The NS program taught me about myself and my identity as an Inuk from Nunavut. It also taught me that I am able to do well, meet challenges and achieve the goals I desire.

We live in a fast-paced, always changing, sometimes complicated, techno-age society and the need for gaining an education or skills has taken on a greater importance. Young Inuit need to know that pursuing an education in whatever field they choose is one of the keys, not only to financial security, but also to acquiring a life filled with quality.

I have been part of an Arctic Net research team for a few years now for the project, Improving Access to University for Inuit and have taken part in focus groups with other Inuit who have pursued, or are pursuing post-secondary learning in the North and down South. I’ve also interviewed Inuit about their individual experiences and know from what they’ve told me that they face many challenges, some that are atypical, others that are unique.

Many Inuit pursuing higher education in the North are facing tremendous financial difficulties. Most have chosen to study there because they do not want to move too far away from home and family. While they do receive the same amount of funding support as their contemporaries studying in the South, their costs of living are much higher.

Inuit students in the South have to adapt to radically different lifestyles and cultural mindsets. Cognitively, they need to be made aware about what they are experiencing and be given the necessary tools to deal with the pressures and stresses of post-secondary education. There is today, a real need for more services or programs to support these students mentally, socially and financially during that very critical period of adjustment.

More support I believe will provide students with a good foundation and the necessary building blocks to succeed.

Academic stresses, of course, are universally common, affecting students from all cultures and regions. But add the impact of radical cultural change (culture shock) to the inevitable homesickness many Inuit experience and the necessity for adequate support and positive, workable approaches and solutions becomes even greater.

New program initiatives similar to Nunavut Sivuniksavut, new and enhanced mentorship services for Inuit students adjusting to life in the South, and more focus groups to help develop meaningful frameworks that assist Northern students to succeed at the post-secondary school level in the South would all make a positive difference.

Through my journalism work I have learned that some Nunavummiut already living down South, who want to go back to school, face financial challenges too.While they have already overcome one of the biggest hurdles — having proved they can live independently and successfully in the South—they unfortunately do not have access to all funding assistance programs open to Nunavut beneficiaries, because living in Nunavut for at least one year is a current requirement.

A post-secondary funding agency created specifically to aid those Nunavut beneficiaries living in the South while pursuing higher education [or advanced skills and career training] would help so many more to achieve higher levels of education, life satisfaction, and success.

Exciting new learning opportunities and appealing career options continue to widen in scope and overall accessibility. Good post-secondary education programs and some funding supports for Inuit living in the North and South are in place too. These all must continue to grow [and improve] however, to meet growing demand and if we hope to responsibly nurture future generations and develop even more strong, capable leaders for our people and our land.