Education

A new support assistant program is free, but not without critics


The GNWT has defended its decision to partner with a British Columbia school, not Aurora College, in covering the costs of a certificate program for school support assistants.

The Education Assistance and Inclusion certificate pilot program begins this coming January. Support assistants with permanent positions currently working in NWT schools, and who have their high school diploma or equivalency, are eligible to enrol.

Douglas College, based in British Columbia, will deliver the 30-credit course to students online. Participants will continue to work as support assistants while taking classes. 

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When the territory promoted the program on Facebook, several residents queried why such a course would not be delivered through the NWT’s own Aurora College. One, in a comment since deleted, suggested the territory’s closure of Aurora College’s Bachelor of Education program had left local out-of-work instructors who could have helped.

While a Bachelor’s degree and a certificate program are different credentials for different occupations, the territory’s Department of Education, Culture, and Employment – or ECE – says it “envisions this pilot program as one day feeding into a renewed Bachelor of Education program,” while training students to become educational assistants.

The department told Cabin Radio three of the Douglas College program’s four instructors are based in the NWT and said the program aligns with the territory’s “inclusive schooling and student support principles [and] has a demonstrated understanding of Indigenous values.”

The territory is covering the cost of tuition, materials, and other fees during the pilot, allowing students to earn their certification for free while providing feedback to improve the course.

ECE said it partnered with Douglas College and not Aurora College because it was important to deliver the program “at the earliest possible time,” but suggested “the course could be offered at Aurora College in the future.”

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The department feels getting the pilot off the ground soon is critical so trained support assistants can help improve students’ educational outcomes – a mandate of the present government and a recommendation that came out of the Auditor General’s February 2020 report on inclusive schooling.

On Facebook, the Yellowknife Day Care Association questioned why the pilot was not available to other staff working in the early childhood sector.

Support assistants in schools are usually GNWT employees with permanent positions – meaning the course targets free training primarily at permanent GNWT staff rather than people who are unemployed, underemployed, or working in the private or non-profit sectors.

ECE said it expects the feedback participants provide will help tailor the program to the NWT. After the pilot is over, the department said, it hopes to offer the course to other NWT residents who want to become certified support assistants.

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