Schools in Nunavut, between staff shortages and old buildings | Polarjournal
The lack of teachers is a recurring problem in Nunavut. The territory has 45 schools catering for 10,000 students, from kindergarten to grade 12. Map: Government of Nunavut

Students in Nunavut are facing a back-to-school period marked by a shortage of teachers and infrastructure problems partly linked to old buildings.

Nunavut lacks teachers. With the start of the new school year just around the corner, 81 jobs are up for grabs in schools across Canada, which has more than 870 teaching positions. According to information broadcast by Radio-Canada, there are 36 missing teachers in the Qikiqtani region, 23 in the Kivalliq region and 22 in Kitikmeot. These figures are similar to those for the start of the 2022 school year, when 90 teachers were unavailable.

This is not a new situation: every year, Nunavut has problems recruiting teachers, which leads to understaffing in the schools. With the risk of staff burnout. One of the causes is the housing crisis affecting the region. Indeed, teachers often have to share accommodation with their colleagues, meaning they work and live together in an isolated community. Many employees decide not to renew their contracts once the year is over.

In more, working staff have to contend with old and even dangerous infrastructures. Between January and December 2022, Nunavut’s 45 schools submitted 3,900 work requests, as Nunatsiaq News recently revealed. According to documents consulted by the media outlet, which has just published two articles in a series of three on the state of the territory’s school infrastructure, requests for repairs are as much about maintenance as they are about fuel leaks or safety problems.

Fuel seepage, mold, classroom flooding, lack of heating – the condition of some school buildings in Nunavut is causing a number of problems, sometimes even forcing schools to close temporarily while repairs are carried out. Here, John Arnalukjuak High School in the community of Arviat. The latter has submitted more than 600 requests for work in 2022. Photo: eanoee, via Wikimedia Commons.

Some requests even mention potential dangers for students, such as doors that slam shut and risk injuring children’s fingers, or interior doors that lock students in sections of corridor from which they couldn’t escape in a case of emergency. Facilities are also frequently the target of break-ins and acts of vandalism.

The Government of Nunavut spends more than C$18 million (over 12 million euros) each year to maintain its schools, whose buildings are severely tested by climatic conditions. Besides, maintenance and repair are often synonymous with closure.

This year alone, four schools were closed for a total of 81 days. When this happens, the school management has to find an alternative, either by finding another place to house the class, sometimes as students take turns attending classes, or by working from home. However, distance learning can quickly be limited by access to the necessary technologies. “Closures of this nature would definitely have an impact on the education of the students, and also on the ability of the teacher to perform their job”, told to Nunatsiaq News Justin Matchett of the Nunavut Teachers’ Association, the organization representing the territory’s teachers.

A situation mainly due to the state of certain school buildings. Eight out of Nunavut’s 45 schools have not been renovated in over 20 years, and just under a quarter were built between 1968 and 1979.

Featured image : Pixabay

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

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