The federal Task Force on Northern Post-Secondary Education has begun work to identify gaps in the northern education system, putting out a call for northerners to share their thoughts.
Federal northern affairs minister Dan Vandal announced the task force last October as part of the Liberal government’s Arctic and Northern Policy Framework. The group consists of 13 individuals from northern communities who will lead public engagement sessions and assess the challenges of post-secondary education in the North.
A final report with recommendations is expected by the end of the year.
Three task force members come from the NWT: Dr Kelsey Wrightson, executive director of the Dechinta Centre; Malerie Bayha, a youth member of the Délı̨nę First Nation; and Angélique Ruzindana Umunyana, who sits on the board of directors for Collège Nordique Francophone.
The task force’s website launched on Monday. Participants can fill out an online survey, register for a virtual discussion, or upload documents, video, or audio. Post-secondary institutions in the south also have the opportunity to participate.
Tosh Southwick, a task force member in the Yukon, told Cabin Radio the group wants to hear from “anybody who has anything they think they can contribute.”
“We’re particularly interested in post-secondary graduates, high school graduates who are trying to get into post-secondary, students who had to drop out for whatever reason,” she said.
According to Dr Wrightson, challenges in the North range from restricted access to broadband internet to a lack of affordable childcare for students with children.
“Some of the things that I’ve heard so far have included issues accessing programming that is culturally relevant, programming folks feel safe and supported in accessing,” Wrightson said.
“Even just the distance … a lot of post-secondary programs require students to travel vast distances away from their support network, from the families from their communities.”
The needs of Indigenous students and communities need to be taken into consideration, Southwick added.
“Is the institution responsive to our cultures?” she said. “Are the institutions supporting self-determination? Are the institutions focused on reconciliation? Who decides what research is conducted and how it’s conducted? Who in the institution has the authority to decide what is truth?”
Transforming education in the NWT
The task force joins a number of similar reviews aimed at improving education in the NWT.
Last September, Aurora College, Collège nordique francophone, and the Dechinta Centre signed an agreement to collaborate more closely with one another and make post-secondary schooling more accessible in the territory.
Wrightson said the task force is inviting the GNWT and other stakeholders to participate in public engagement sessions, but the group is not mandated to engage the territorial government.
A spokesperson for the NWT Department of Education, Culture, and Employment told Cabin Radio by email that the GNWT’s work to modernize the Education Act “shares the task force’s goal of improving student educational outcomes in the NWT” but is looking exclusively at the NWT’s JK-12 education system, while the task force is pan-northern.
“However, any recommendations and findings issued by the task force will be welcome and taken into consideration as ECE works with its partners to bring changes to the act,” the statement continued.
When asked what role the task force plays in transforming education in the North, Wrightson said the group must “listen and create a platform to amplify the voices and visions of individuals and communities” as the federal government works on its policy framework.
“There’s such a wealth of knowledge that can be shared when we invest in these communities, when we invest in individuals, and really support what a sustainable knowledge economy can look like,” she said.
“I think this is an opportunity to think really expansively about post-secondary.”