Arctic skills fill a generation gap

January 7, 2000

One of the most northerly academic institutions is the Inuit Arctic College in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. At 63 degrees north, only Arktikum in Lapland is closer to the Arctic Circle.

Arctic College sits on a slope above Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, and its job is to help turn out students who will one day run a territory given semi-autonomy only in April 1999.

The college was founded in 1995 after the historic land-claim settlement that acknowledged the Inuits' claim to their own territory. It takes 600 full-time and 2,000 part-time students.

Given that the territory is five times the size of Germany, it is no surprise that a large proportion of the students have to be housed on campus in Iqaluit, but there are also 24 community learning centres scattered across Nunavut's sub-Arctic wasteland, and two smaller campuses are being set up deeper into the territory.

According to James Arvaluk, Nunavut's new education minister, one of the main challenges is the high school drop-out rate and the low number of Inuit graduates available to run the territory. "There has been criticism over the years about the fact that we need more Inuit teachers and more Inuit culture incorporated into the teaching materials. Education was one of the key areas identified by almost every candidate running for election," he said.

While Nunavut was still part of the Northwest Territories it suffered education cuts - one of the reasons why the territory is concentrating on education. Arctic College offers teacher training to respond to a sudden improvement in child mortality rates.

Madeleine Redfern of Nunavut Tourism said: "With such a large youth population - 60 per cent under the age of 25 - by investing resources and a certain amount of strategic planning and creativity, we may be able to turn kids on to learning. From some of the successful programmes I have seen in other third world or inner-city school projects, I believe we can achieve good work and results."

The college has exchange programmes with the Hertzen Pedagogic Institute in St Petersburg and frequent exchanges with tertiary institutes in Greenland.

It also addresses needs that are specific to Nunavut such as the interpreter and translator programme, community administration, mining technology, English as a second language and the fine arts, which - given that Inuit artefacts are gaining a world market - will be increasingly important as the territory gets on its feet.

The creation of Nunavut has not been without criticism. One reservation has been the phenomenal cost of creating this territory (estimated at more than Can$1 billion (Pounds 40 million)) and the lack of expertise among the new citizens. This is where Arctic College has a vital role to play. Hitherto a bright young Inuk would travel south to a Canadian university and often never came back.

Only a few hundred yards below the main college offices a parliament building has been constructed. The college's job will be to help supply the politicians and civil servants who will run this brave - if extremely cold - new world.

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