"She Can Bother Me, and That's Because She Cares": What Inuit Students Say about Teaching and Their Learning

By Lewthwaite, Brian; McMillan, Barbara | Canadian Journal of Education, July 2010 | Go to article overview

"She Can Bother Me, and That's Because She Cares": What Inuit Students Say about Teaching and Their Learning


Lewthwaite, Brian, McMillan, Barbara, Canadian Journal of Education


In this study, we have investigated, through interviews, conversations, questionnaires, and observations, perceptions of learning success of northern Qikiqtani (Baffin Island) of Nunavut Inuit middle years (grades 5-8) students and the classroom pedagogy influencing their success, in particular their learning in science. Most of the processes identified as contributors to successful learning were culturally located. Students also placed importance on teachers who cared not only for them as people, but also for their performance as learners. Based upon students' information, we have presented a profile of the characteristics of effective teachers in Inuit schools to promote learning within a positive environment.

Key words: Nunavut, culturally responsive teaching, social and interactive processes, Qikiqtani (Baffin Island

Les auteurs ont etudie, a l'aide d'entrevues, de conversations, de questionnaires et d'observations, les perceptions d'eleves de 5e a 8e annee sur l'ile de Baffin au Nunavut au sujet des facteurs entrant en jeu dans leur reussite scolaire, notamment en sciences. La plupart des facteurs identifies etaient relies a la culture locale. Les eleves accordaient en outre de l'importance aux enseignants qui se souciaient d'eux non seulement comme personnes mais aussi comme apprenants. A la lumiere des entrevues effectuees, les auteurs brossent un tableau des caracteristiques d'enseignants efficaces qui reussissent a promouvoir l'apprentissage dans des ecoles inuites, dans un environnement positif.

Mots cles : Nunavut, enseignement adapte a la realite culturelle, processus sociaux et interactifs, Qikiqtani (ile de Baffin).

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The establishment of the territory of Nunavut in 1999 emanated from a deep-rooted and overwhelming call through years of lobbying by the Inuit of northern Canada to move towards self-governance in all aspects of Inuit society. In no context was there greater resonance of voice for self-determination than in the domain of education. Through the establishment of Nunavut, Inuit gained self-rule and control in policy over their own institutions, including schools. Since 1999, Nunavut has moved to establish the Education Act (Government of Nunavut, 2008) to set the course for future developments in education across Nunavut. As Ed Picco (2006), the past Minister of Education, purported in legitimizing the length of time it had taken to come to a collectively accepted document, "Nunavummiut (1) want a made-in-Nunavut Education Act that reflects Inuit values and culture. We want to ensure [it provides the foundation for] the best quality of education for our children" (p. 2).

With the establishment of Nunavut and, ultimately, the Education Act, the territory faces the challenge of reversing assimilation and regaining a sense of identity, especially within classroom experiences that influence the education of Inuit children. The Government of Nunavut Department of Education (GN) has identified "culture-based education" as one of the foundational principles for school development. The GN policy requires organizations within Nunavut communities to create activities that preserve, promote, and enhance their culture, including arts, heritage, and language. This policy, based upon the principle that culture, in all its expression, provides a foundation for learning and growth, and that the GN should support individuals, organizations, and communities to promote, preserve, and enhance their culture (Government of Nunavut, 2005). The underlying premise of culture-based education is that the educational experiences provided for children should reflect, validate, and promote the culture and language of Inuit. These experiences should be reflected not only in the management and operation of schools but, arguably more important, the curricula implemented and pedagogies used at the classroom level.

Similar to most Indigenous (2) peoples, Inuit presently participate in a school system that has been drawn from the dominant culture, in their case southern Canadian school system models. …

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