Original Published on Oct 27, 2022 at 05:48
‘Where’s your orange T-shirt now?’
By Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
When she went to university, Lela Evans says, she had a hard time adjusting.
“When I was going to university, I would only write on the right-hand side of the page,” the Torngat Mountains MHA told The Telegram Wednesday, Oct. 26.
“I would have to look up things because a lot of stuff that was being said in class, I didn’t understand. I had to look up words and look up phrases.”
Evans, who grew up in Makkovik on the coast of Labrador, says the cultural divide is real, and makes hands-on education all that more important for Inuit communities like hers.
“We are in a community surrounded by the Inuktitut language. We’re surrounded by the Inuit culture, and the learning is different,” she said.
“People think we’re exaggerating when we talk about a different life, a different culture. But even the way you learn is different.”
Parents in Nain say they were blindsided by a Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD) decision to take teachers away from Grade 12 students who were on a core academic stream to pursue post-secondary education.
Those teachers were instead moved to fill four vacant positions at the junior high level.
The senior students were relegated to online learning through the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation (CDLI), although until this week they barely had enough bandwith to connect with one computer.
“The school board thought it was acceptable to have one computer and 12 students huddled around that computer to do their CDLI course,” Evans said.
She said parents were shocked to discover what was going on in the school. They held a protest outside Jens Haven Memorial on Tuesday, something Evans says residents along the coast rarely do.
Among the signs they held was one that said, “Where’s your orange shirt now?” — a reference to the colour worn on Truth and Reconciliation Day.
Many of the students are so frustrated, says Evans, that they plan to abandon the academic classes and return to the general stream.
“The ones who are going to go to general, they’re going to have their esteem shattered, they’re going to feel let down. Their academic careers now are basically off the tracks,” she said.
“The ones that stay in it are going to struggle and have anxiety and stress the whole year.”
In a statement Tuesday, the NLESD said it came up short four positions in Nain despite a concerted recruitment effort throughout the summer.
The board also said it has fixed the connectivity issue, as of Tuesday.
It said teacher shortages have been a big problem this year, and that other schools in Labrador and on the island have had to resort to CDLI.
But Evans says people don’t realize that’s not good enough for the Nain students.
“They’re looking at it through their own lens, the way they know things, they understand things. For our kids to be doing online learning for the first time at the Grade 12 level, with the slow internet, and now we’re two months in … what’s going to happen if we don’t get the teachers back?”