Early Childhood to Grade 12 Education in the Northwest Territories—Department of Education, Culture and Employment

Opening Statement to the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Government Operations

Early Childhood to Grade 12 Education in the Northwest Territories—Department of Education, Culture and Employment

(2020 February Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly)

6 November 2020

Karen Hogan, Chartered Professional AccountantCPA, Chartered AccountantCA
Auditor General of Canada

Madam Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss our report on early childhood to Grade 12 education in the Northwest Territories. The report was tabled in the Legislative Assembly on February 6, 2020. Joining me are Glenn Wheeler and Maria Pooley, who are members of the audit team.

In this report, we looked at whether the Department of Education, Culture and Employment managed early childhood to grade  2 education so that programs and services were equitable, inclusive, and reflective of Indigenous languages and cultures.

Overall, the department did not meet all of its obligations, including ones set out in its ambitious plans to renew the education system. We found shortfalls in the department’s actions in every area that we audited. In addition, the department did not know whether its efforts were improving student outcomes.

For example, the department’s progress to support Indigenous language and culture-based education was slow. In 2011, it committed to working with regional education bodies to increase the number of qualified language instructors. However, it did not assess how many instructors were needed or for which languages. The need for swift action is increasingly critical, because knowledge of Indigenous languages is declining.

We also found that the department did not monitor inclusive schooling to know whether students were receiving the supports they needed to participate in the regular education program in their communities.

Moving to equitable access, the department failed to address some other commitments, including improving support to teachers in multi-grade classrooms. The department did, however, introduce some initiatives to improve access to education across communities, such as Junior Kindergarten and Northern Distance Learning.

For daycare programming, the department did not track the training needs of operators and staff to understand how to best support them. The department also did not provide sufficient guidance to operators on how to help prepare preschoolers for success in school.

The department did not have a clear picture of the performance of the education system because of problems with how it collected and analyzed data. For example, we found that the department’s analysis overestimated the high school graduation rate.

A decade after our first audit in 2010, we found there were still gaps in the outcomes between students in smaller communities and those in regional centres and Yellowknife, as well as between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. Sufficiently analyzing student data would help the department better understand the actions it could take to help improve student outcomes.

We are deeply concerned by our findings, given the importance of education for children. The department must take steps and work with regional education bodies and other partners to ensure that the education system improves student outcomes, including closing the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students as well as between students in smaller communities and students in larger centres.

An entire school year has passed since our audit was completed and we have not audited the actions taken by the Department since then. Your committee may wish to ask departmental officials questions on the action plan they prepared to address our recommendations.

Madam Chair, this concludes my opening statement. We would be happy to answer your questions.