Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ Regional High School in May 2023. Megan Miskiman/Cabin Radio
The Northwest Territories government’s latest report on its education system, for the 2021-22 school year, sets out what it says was the continued effect of Covid-19 on students.
The territory released its latest annual report, covering junior kindergarten to Grade 12, on Monday. The report provides data tied to performance measures like attendance rates and high school graduation rates.
These annual reports exist to track what the GNWT calls “education renewal,” a 10-year plan to improve education in the territory. But from 2020 to 2022, the data is dominated by the consequences of the pandemic.
Where 2019-20 involved rapid, unplanned closures and a sudden shift to remote learning, the GNWT says the 2021-22 school year analyzed in this report was the year with the most interruptions and complete shutdowns (not including South Slave school closures related to spring flooding). Schools were shut down three percent of the time and remote learning accounted for a fifth of the school year.
“We continue to see the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on students academically, developmentally and emotionally, as well as its impacts on the entire education system,” education minister RJ Simpson was quoted as saying in a press release. “This report will support our work to continue improving student outcomes and addressing those gaps, in partnership with education bodies, communities, families, and local and Indigenous governments.”
Other outcomes the report indicates may be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic include decreased enrolment in Indigenous-language programs, an increase in students with support plans, decreases in attendance rates, and an increase in connectedness to adults at school.
The report also said a spike in Grade 10 completion in 2019-20, and a decrease in high-school graduates who enrolled in post-secondary education, could be related to the pandemic.
But the report also includes trends that appear to present concerns broader than the pandemic.
For example, there is a downward trend in the percentage of Grade 9 students scoring “acceptable” or higher on English Alberta Achievement Tests since 2018-19, and a similar trend for Grade 6 and Grade 9 students in math testing.
The percentage of Grade 7 students who are considered to be “thriving,” by the report’s metrics, is heading downward across the NWT, a decline that began well before the pandemic’s onset.
“Decreases in ‘thriving’ scores continue to suggest that the NWT education system can do more to better support students’ well-being throughout the middle grades,” the report stated.
Graduation rates fluctuated a little over the past year but, importantly, the report said a gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students over the past decade has remained. Non-Indigenous students graduate high school at a rate of 70 to 80 percent, but Indigenous students are graduating at only a rate of 40 to 50 percent. The graduation rate is higher in Yellowknife than anywhere else, though the rate in regional centres almost matched the capital in 2021-22. “Digging into this data further, this increase does not indicate a larger number of graduates, but rather a smaller number of students in the cohort,” the territory stated.
The report found the number of educators in the territory has increased over the past two years. Since junior kindergarten was introduced territory-wide in 2017-18, students that attend the program are “consistently more likely to be prepared for learning in Grade 1,” the report asserted.
Finally, the report found a higher percentage of students scoring “acceptable” or higher in language and social studies exams than in math or science. That suggests a need to increase focus on the latter subjects in schools, the report stated.
In a note introducing the report’s findings, the GNWT says its efforts to change the education system will take time.
“Persistent gaps in student outcomes, especially in small communities, are a result of numerous factors that require the efforts of the GNWT, Indigenous governments, communities and families to effect change,” the report states.
A 2020 report by Canada’s auditor general on the territory’s education system found “deeply concerning flaws.” In that audit, assessors found shortfalls in every area they examined.
The NWT government agreed to all nine of that report’s recommendations.