Kativik School Board Initiated Research: The Basis for Informed Decision Making

The Kativik school board faces a major challenge as the primary institution responsible for preparing the young people of Nunavik to face the 21st century. Its dual mandate requires that it ensure the promotion of Inuit values, but that simultaneously students receive an education that will allow them to participate fully in mainstream society (Annual report, KSB, 1985). This challenge is exacerbated by two additional facts: 1) the Kativik school board is a recent institution, only becoming a reality in 1976; and 2) it is responsible for meeting the needs of young people most of whose parents have had little experience with formal education.

Because of this challenging reality, the school board cannot merely borrow mainstream programs and apply them to education in Nunavik. The board has made (and must continue to make) wise use of carefully researched programs from different regions of Canada and around the world; selecting programs designed for groups who, like the Inuit of Nunavik, face the challenge of educating minority students whose first language is other than that of the mainstream. In the area of language of instruction, the school board chose a form of bilingual education that was designed to insure that students would not only become knowledgeable in content subjects, but would also achieve fluency in English or French as well as in Inuktitut. However, this required that school programs and materials be provided in three languages. Generating programs in English or French was made manageable by the fact that English and French curricula, materials and well trained teachers exist in abundance. Although many of these resources had to be modified in order to be applied to the particular conditions in Nunavik, the basic resources were there. Far more challenging was finding and training fully qualified Inuit teachers, as well as developing programs and materials in Inuktitut. Initially, these resources were not merely lacking, they were non-existent.

Not surprisingly, the school board has committed much of its resources to training teachers, administrators, and education specialists, as well as preparing materials in Inuktitut. The result is a genuine form of bilingual education whereby in the early grades, usually K through Grade 2, students are taught in Inuktitut by Inuit instructors. From Grade 3 onwards, students select either a French or English stream until the end of secondary school. At each grade level, a modest amount of time is set aside for instruction in Inuktitut and for Inuit culture.