It’s not everyday you get to dream big, but recently the Department of Education, Culture and Employment asked people to do just that: to articulate a vision for a postsecondary education system for the Northwest Territories.
Several groups hosted public sessions, plus the Department sought input through an online survey. We followed the discussions with interest, attended several sessions, and submitted our ideas through the survey.
A postsecondary education system must provide a continuum of adult learning opportunities, serving those who need to improve skill levels to access more academic programming or employment, as well as those seeking a university degree. It’s a broad “ask”, but we identified four priorities.
Reflect Indigenous people and priorities
First, programming must respond to the needs of our population. Research shows us that success in learning is related to a strong sense of identity. Since many students who attend Aurora College are Indigenous, it’s important for postsecondary programs in the NWT to reflect those students through a greater Indigenous focus. This includes strategies like developing Indigenous-focused programs in fields such as education and social work. Do southern programs produce the teachers and social workers that reflect NWT communities and what they need and deserve? We don’t believe so.
Reflecting the Indigenous nature of the NWT population also means increasing the emphasis on language and culture. Two years ago, I attended a conference at Umea University, in the Saami Homeland in northern Sweden. Saami language and culture surrounded me: I knew I was in a Saami University. Given the current state of NWT Indigenous languages, we believe an NWT postsecondary institution has a responsibility to support their preservation.
Support community learning and innovation
Second, as an organization we are involved in supporting the development of foundational skills. Currently, students in the Developmental Studies program at Aurora College make up over 40% of all students. For the foreseeable future, this cohort will continue to be an important part of the student population and continue to require programs such as Adult Literacy and Basic Education (ALBE) and the University and College Access Program.
Community learning centres (CLCs) play a major role in facilitating upgrading in the communities. They cater to a broad range of students: from people who need to improve their skills to access campus programs or employment, to people who do not want to, or are not able to, leave their community for a variety of reasons.
In recent years, CLCs have broadened the scope of programs they offer, with considerable success. The community-based Literacy and Essential Skills short courses, for example, have an 81% completion rate compared to a 55% completion rate in other ALBE courses. CLCs are an integral part of a postsecondary system in the NWT. They must be recognized and supported to develop innovative, community-based programming—programs that do not follow the more academic and structured approach of campus-based programs.
Do research important to northerners
Third, an NWT postsecondary institution must do research that focuses on issues of importance to the North; more specifically, we believe, in the areas of the humanities and social sciences. While these areas are extensive, we highlighted food security, quality of life and well-being, and sustainability.
And finally, an NWT postsecondary institution needs to be autonomous—at arm’s length from the Department of Education, Culture and Employment. The tight control of the Department on Aurora College has hampered college development. It’s time to move forward with a revitalized concept of postsecondary education in the North.
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