The cuts to Aurora College’s social work and Bachelor of Education programs have sparked outrage from Northerners throughout the territory.
The cuts came after a loss of $1.9 million in funding was announced with the territorial government’s 2017-2018 budget.
Education Minister Alfred Moses has repeatedly said the program cuts were the college’s decision once faced with a lack of funding, but now a former member of Aurora’s board of governors claims that isn’t true.
Lynn Napier-Buckley is mayor of Fort Smith, where the Aurora campus offers the Bachelor of Education program.
She was a member of Aurora’s board of governors for a year and a half before she says she was asked to resign after submitting a letter to the minister, criticizing the program cuts [read the letter here].
“The decision to cut degree-granting programs affects residents from across the North,” read the letter.
“Having these programs at Aurora College gives Northern residents the ability to respond to the culture and to the challenges of working within these careers in the North.
“The ability to get an education in the North encourages students to remain in the North and to return to their communities.”
Napier-Buckley says she was told by the board’s chair on behalf of the minister that her opinions were in conflict with the college’s interests.
“I don’t think my interests were in conflict with the interests of the institution,” Napier-Buckley told Moose FM.
“I support the college wholeheartedly. I support funding for the college, but I did not support the cuts which came down through ECE and I suppose that’s what put me in conflict.”
She filed her letter of resignation on Feb. 22 [read the letter here].
Moose FM has reached out to the education minister and Aurora’s board director for comment. They were unavailable for an interview.
No consultation before cuts made
Napier-Buckley claims that the board of governors were told the cuts were coming rather than consulted with, and doesn’t feel that anything they could have said would’ve changed that decision.
“I think if it was not those two programs then it would have been other programs,” she said.
“There’s no way the college can take that large a hit in funding without it having a huge impact on what it’s able to deliver.”
When asked by MLAs in the legislature, Moses has offered that students looking for a similar program can find them down south.
Napier-Buckley doesn’t think that’s good enough.
“The program was really built for Northern students, for Indigenous students to get teachers from the North into Northern schools, and to make language and culture a huge part of that,” Napier-Buckley said.
“Yes, students can get this education down south but I don’t think that it’s going to be tailored to the Aboriginal culture that we have in the North.”
She shared the story of one student from a small community currently attending the college’s Bachelor of Education program.
“Her dream for her community is to have all local teachers in her school teaching the students,” Napier-Buckley said.
“Really I think that that’s what the program is about, to bring the teachers from our communities back into our communities.”
Purpose ‘to integrate Aboriginal culture’
In her original opposition letter, Napier-Buckley spoke about the unique opportunity the Bachelor of Education program offers to train Northern teachers, especially in honouring Indigenous culture.
“The Bachelor of Education program at Aurora College prepares teachers to work effectively in Northern classrooms,” the letter read.
“To integrate Aboriginal cultural perspectives in classrooms, to utilize community and traditional knowledge resources, to teach all subject competently for grades K-9 and to meet the needs of each child.
“By eliminating this program, it forces students to southern institutions causing Northern society to suffer by removing the aspects of emphasizing northern culture and tradition in education.”
Napier-Buckley feels that these cuts stop any chances for Aurora College to make improvements to either program moving forward, essentially removing them from the North.
Teachers high in demand in the NWT
In November, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment released it’s Skills 4 Success action plan to determine appropriate programs and supports for people looking to get into the Northern workforce.
The department released a list of the top 20 in-demand jobs in the NWT between 2015 and 2030.
The most in-demand job? Elementary school and kindergarten teachers.
The list also includes several teaching positions and social workers, another program cut from the college.
“Cutting funding for it is just counter-intuitive,” Napier-Buckley said.
“I hope that the MLAs realize the importance of the college … and recognize that the college is there for our people, our Northern people, to help them, to help Northern society.”