Education Week spurs volley of questions
By Ainslie Cruickshank on April 18, 2012 at 3:41 pm
Photo by Whitehorse Star
Education concerns dominated question period in the legislature Tuesday as opposition members grilled Education Minister Scott Kent on issues ranging from graduation rates to Yukon College endowment lands.
Jim Tredger, the NDP’s education critic, began question period by raising concerns about troubling graduation rates and the growing success gap between rural and urban students.
“Four out of 10 Yukon students do not graduate,” said Tredger, a former veteran educator. “Department of Education data indicates First Nation students have lower graduation rates than other Yukon students, perhaps as high as six out of every 10 students. This trend is getting worse.”
Then-auditor general Sheila Fraser recommended in 2009 that the department take action to address the widening gap, Tredger noted.
“The minister was to report on performance targets, review this data on an annual basis and develop action plans to address the gaps,” he said in the house.
Kent responded that the Department of Education has continued to make progress on the former auditor general’s recommendations.
“What that audit provided for us was a useful opportunity to look at the way we do business, and the department is taking advantage of the opportunity to change and improve the way we deliver programs and services,” he said.
Kent also noted there are a number of initiatives underway aimed at improving the declining graduation rates. He specifically mentioned the Individual Learning Centre, which was started under the late former minister John Edzerza.
“We have seen significant success with the Individual Learning Centre allowing students that do not fit into the traditional model of high school to take on those positions,” Kent said.
Next up were questions about the transfer of endowment lands to Yukon College, whose current campus opened in 1988.
“In order to become a university, something the Yukon Party government promised in its election platform, Yukon College needs room to grow,” said Lois Moorcroft, the NDP critic for advanced education.
Kent said the Yukon Party referenced providing lands to the college for a centre for northern innovation in mining and a student residence.
Moorcroft asked Kent what steps he has taken to transfer endowment lands to the college.
Kent responded that he has had a number of meetings involving his department, the Departments of Community Services and Energy, Mines and Resources and Yukon College, mentioning that he met with the college’s president and the board chair as recently as Monday.
“There is nothing final to report yet, but as soon as that progress is complete and those options are developed, it will go through the cabinet process, and we expect to identify those lands for the college,” he said.
Moorcroft also asked the minister if he supports the college’s desire for the endowment lands to include the land adjacent to McIntyre Creek.
“By including in college endowment lands the proposed area, which parallels McIntyre Creek and the college, they could support environmental monitoring and research, youth sciences programs, boreal trails and parkland,” she said.
Kent said he isn’t prepared to comment until he has spoken with all the partners involved, including the City of Whitehorse and First Nations.
Darius Elias, the interim leader of the Liberal party, noted, “It must be Education Week” before asking Kent if he would commit to helping students from Old Crow, who are in Whitehorse for school, return home for Thanksgiving and Easter holidays.
“During the recent Easter holidays, it was once again only the students from Old Crow — and I believe one other student — who remained at the dorm. All other students drove home,” he said.
Elias said Old Crow students have no choice but to leave home to attend high school, spending a total of 9 1/2 months away from home each year.
Kent responded that he was certain these concerns could be addressed.
“I don’t think it’s going to add a significant amount to the budget, and I think it’s something we can deal with rather quickly,” he said.
Kent also mentioned that he has initiated discussions with his department about students from Old Crow possibly attending school in Dawson City.
Jan Stick, the NDP critic for economic development, queried the minister on his plan for labour skills development in the territory.
“A high level of mineral exploration and development has given the Yukon an economic boost that is welcomed,” she said.
“There is, however, a rising concern about the fly-in/fly-out workers that mining companies are using to fill their skilled worker needs.”
Kent said there are a number of ways the government is responding to the needs of the labour force, which include comprehensive skills and trades training, immigration recruitment, employee retention and labour market information.
“Those are what will guide us over the next number of years, when it comes to meeting the significant labour market needs for Yukon residents and, of course, those new Yukoners and Canadians who come to us via the three immigration programs offered by the Yukon government,” he said.
Stick also raised concerns about poor literacy rates in rural Yukon.
“Research tells us that the Yukon has the highest rate of literacy in Canada. Though true, this is not the case in rural communities, where literacy rates are below acceptable levels,” she said.
Kent said there are a number of programs offered through the department, NGOs and Yukon College that address literacy.
He said Yukon College receives approximately $500,000 for adult education programs.
The Yukon Learn Society receives $275,000, the Kwanlin Dün House of Learning gets $175,000, the Learning Disabilities Association of Yukon is awarded $82,000, the Yukon Literacy Coalition is granted $25,000 for the Pan Northern Gathering and Linking Essential Skills to Life, with the Yukon Literacy Coalition receiving $30,000.
“I’ve also had meetings with the producers group, which includes the producing mines here in the Yukon, and have talked about the training needs that they experience and the fact that they, along with us, along with all Yukoners, want to ensure that we minimize the number of workers who are coming in from outside the territory,” said Kent.
The new 2012-2013 budget for the Department of Education was also debated yesterday.
The total budget for the Department of Education this year is
Kent marked a career anniversary Tuesday.
Twelve years ago that day, he was elected as a Liberal in former premier Pat Duncan’s 2000-02 government.