Realities of the NWT

  • Diversity
  • Small Schools
  • History
  • Place-based Education

Diversity within the Northwest Territories is a source of its strength. The NWT is stronger because it is made up many different peoples, cultures, traditions, and ideas. However, this diversity can also be challenging. 

Challenges unique to the North confirm how necessary educational change is. Most NWT schools are small schools that deal with different realities than faced in larger centres. These include less access to resources, higher costs, fewer teachers, and single classrooms with students of varying grade levels. It is difficult for small schools to offer the range of high school courses needed to meet the interests, abilities and goals of all their students. In addition, there are challenges related to the fact that many NWT educators are new to teaching and stay in the North for only a short time because they are from elsewhere in Canada or the world.

It is also crucial to look at the history of the North to understand why the current education system must change. Education has always been a priority for northern people. One of the first duties of any community was to help children become capable people. Elders were central to teaching, as they helped children learn knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that they, and their community, would need in order to survive.

A different way of teaching came to the North in the 1800's when missionaries arrived and began to teach with a focus on religious instruction. This style of teaching became formalized through the creation of residential schools. These new schools typically took children from their families and communities. They were cut off from their language, culture, and way of life. The awful history and legacy of these schools are still strongly felt across the NWT. They are at the root of many of the challenges we see in northern communities today, and in the relationships between many northern people and formal education. 

It is imperative, then, that all NWT schools reflect the culture and values of their community within the school building, values and programming. Through both research and experience, we know that genuine education is rooted in place and culture. This idea is fundamental to Aboriginal ways of knowing. It is also confirmed through research and lived experience worldwide.