[Witness spoke in Inuktitut]
My name is Robert Watt. I am the president of Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, the school board of Nunavik.
First, I would like to thank you for inviting me. I'm glad to have the opportunity to inform you about how the Nunavik education sector has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As you are aware, the school year ended March 23 in Nunavik. Now we are planning to reopen school in August. This work is aligned with the health and safety measures announced for Nunavik as our communities reopen slowly.
These unprecedented times have highlighted key needs in education, and I would like to focus on six recommendations that are essential for education in Nunavik. I have filed a briefing document with the committee, where you will find comprehensive backgrounds on each of these recommendations. I encourage you to read it.
Regarding telecommunication infrastructure, without access to broadband/high-speed Internet, there is no real prospect for distance education and online education platforms to develop as a serious service offering in the youth, adult and post-secondary sectors in Nunavik.
With regard to access to technology, in Nunavik the cost of living is particularly high and the 2018 median income of Inuit families was $25,627, compared with $61,400 for the rest of Canada. Families and students must be provided the financial means to acquire technologies. This is essential to ensure the educational success of Inuit students as learning is likely to increasingly shift towards online platforms and tools.
With regard to testing, as we proceed with the reopening of our schools and adult education centres, and to foster trust in our transportation networks and institutions, it will be important for the Nunavik organizations and air carriers servicing our communities to have access to COVID-19 testing, with reduced delays for obtaining results. With the backdrop of a high tuberculosis rate and a recent history of devastating epidemics, this is key to addressing the fear that many Nunavimmiut feel about the prospect of reopening our communities.
With regard to water and sewer services, access to these services remains an ongoing issue in Nunavik. Lack of water or sewage service is a recurring cause of school closure in most of our communities. In the context of COVID-19, where the main health measure is to wash hands frequently, we need to see infrastructure investments that will support and ensure sustainable maintenance of our water and sewer services beyond this pandemic.
With a continuously growing student population and a renewed interest in post-secondary studies at a distance, we need to see infrastructure investments that will support the Nunavik education system beyond the immediate measures announced in the context of this pandemic. These include the construction, renovation and expansion of school and adult education centres, housing for employees, student residences in the adult sector; and study space for post-secondary students.
Last but not least is on-the-land education and Inuktitut language protection. The educational resources, digital content, online platforms and curriculum developed by the school board are available in Inukititut, English and French. We need to recognize that guaranteeing consistent access to content in Inuktitut that has been developed from an Inuit perspective requires additional time, specific expertise, and can only happen with access to adequate funding.
On-the-land education programs and activities offer unique educational opportunities that connect youth to their language, identity and communities. They play a critical role in strengthening the Inuktitut language, and require adequate funding.
At the school board, on-the-land education and educational excursions have benefited from the support of new paths for education, a program formerly administered under Indigenous and Northern Affairs. Discussions on the transfer of funding available through this program to the Province of Quebec are recurrently occurring. This means that the federal funding the school board currently relies on for on-the-land education would be distributed through the Quebec ministry of education. We would like to stress the utmost importance of ensuring a seamless transition of this program, as a gap in access to funding could jeopardize some of the culturally relevant activities offered by our schools.
Thank you very much.