Nakasuk School opts for bilingual education model

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Mar 6 14:03:29 UTC 2006

 March 3, 2006
Nakasuk School opts for bilingual education model
New system eliminates shock of sudden switch from Inuktitut to English


Nakasuk elementary school in Iqaluit is getting ready to revamp the way it
teaches Inuktitut and English to children from kindergarten to Grade 5. On
Jan. 31, staff invited parents to a half-day meeting where all agreed that
the school should move away from the abrupt switch from all-Inuktitut
classes for the first four years of schooling, and embrace a bilingual
education model proposed by the department of education in fall 2004. At
that meeting, they struck a parent-teacher bilingual education committee
that will further research the three bilingual language of instruction
models, and seek input from parents, with the aim of selecting a bilingual
education model by spring.

Right now, students at Nakasuk start in either the Inuktitut stream or the
English stream. Inuktitut stream students learn only in Inuktitut from
kindergarten to Grade 3. They get their first taste of English in Grade 4,
and by Grade 5, are learning mostly in English with only a small amount of
Inuktitut. But school principal Carol Horn says that this method amounts
to what other school districts have called subtractive bilingualism. In
other words, students leave one language behind in order to learn a new
language. Every piece of literature on this says that having one language,
your first language, strong, is really important, and then from that set
of skills you build another language, Horn said.

And thats what Nakasuk School hopes to do next year. In the bilingual
model, Inuktitut stream students start their learning mainly in Inuktitut.
English-as-a-second-language is introduced as early as Grade 1, and the
amount of time that English is spoken gradually increases, until students
in Grade 3 are speaking English about 40 per cent of the time, and
students in Grade 4 spend an equal amount of time in both languages. The
model then reverses in higher grades, where students continue to study
Inuktitut at least part of the time, while learning most of their subjects
in English.

Bilingual education should help reduce the shock that some children get
when they reach Grade 5 and are told they have the literacy level, in
English, of a Grade 1 student, Horn said. It was really humiliating for
some kids. Research also shows, Horn said, that it takes six or seven
years to develop literacy in a second language. So far, a elementary
bilingual education model has been successful at Alookie School in
Pangnirtung, where parents and teachers chose to introduce it about five
years ago.

The mandate is to teach English-as-a-second-language from Grade 1, said
principal Lena Metuq. Thats what the parents wanted. Students in
Pangnirtung get increasing amounts of ESL classes each year, until they
are prepared for junior high, where most of their teachers will be English
speaking. Alookie students also get weekly ESL enrichment classes, which
Metuq teaches. Its a lot easier to teach English sometimes if you can go
back to Inuktitut if they dont understand the English part, Metuq said. So
far, the results are promising. Alookie School has kept track of their
students when they move on to Attagoyuk School.

Weve been finding when their Inuktitut is strong both oral and writing and
reading that its easier for them to grasp English, by the time they are in
the other school, Metuq said. In addition to improved literacy in both
languages, Horn expects that a successful bilingual education model will
encourage more parents to choose the Inuktitut language stream for their
kids. Nakasuk School presently has 194 students in the English stream, and
145 in the Inuktitut stream. Horn said she is concerned that some parents
are choosing the English stream for their kids believing it is the only
way they will become competent in English.

Wed like them to trust this new model, so that children dont have to leave
their Inuktitut behind to develop good English, Horn said. So that its not
an either/or choice, which is how some parents feel about it right now.
Next year, Nakasuk also plans to introduce an immersion stream for parents
who want their kids to go to school in Inuktitut, but whose children do
not speak the language fluently. Right now, the school has several
children entering its Inuktitut stream who dont actually speak the
language which makes teachers jobs harder, while not necessarily
benefiting the kids.

Students in the new immersion stream will work on oral Inuktitut skills
first, and then learn to read and write. According to Horn, these children
wont fall behind even if they learn to read and write later then their
peers, because they will be developing language skills orally. By Grade 3
theyll all be at the same level because thats what research tells us: it
doesnt matter when you start to read, as long as you get started on it by
age eight or nine, youll be able to do it. There is no set deadline for
schools to choose their language of instruction model. At present, only
one District Education Authority has informed the education department of
their plans, an education department spokesperson said.

The education departments language of instruction steering committee meets
this week to discuss suggested procedures for DEAs, schools and parents
choosing the language of instruction model in their community.

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