Education might be priceless, but it doesn’t come cheap.
This week the federal government announced it’s going to spend $27 million over the next five years to bolster adult basic education in the North.
The money, distributed through the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, will be spread between the colleges in the three northern territories.
“We’re being given the tools we need to do the job that needs to be done,” said Karen Barnes, president of Yukon College. “We’ll be able to make the lives of hundreds of Yukoners better.”
Yukon College is getting $300,000 for adult education programs this year, while Aurora College in the Northwest Territories will get more than $600,000.
Meanwhile Nunavut Arctic College will be getting $11 million for its own five-year program.
Each territorial college will be able to apply for more funding for specific programs every year.
The amount of money each college has access to is based on the number of adults of working age who lack a Grade 12 education.
That means the Yukon can access a little more than 18 per cent of the $27-million fund.
“I think it’s a good way to do it, to reflect the actual needs across the territory,” said Yukon MP Ryan Leef, who was on hand for the announcement.
“A lot of times people question how are these figures determined and, on a per capita basis, it doesn’t always reflect the actual need. I think that’s a reasonable calculation.”
Those without a Grade 12 education can find themselves languishing in low-paid jobs as unskilled labourers, he said.
“We’ve talked a lot about this in the last year,” said Leef. “Yukoners want local people to fill local jobs and we’re trying to move them out away from the unskilled labour jobs and towards semi-skilled or skilled positions in the territory.
“Those are the good-paying jobs that most often are going to be snapped up by southern employees. With this funding, it’s going to allow us to start making the steps to get our people there.”
Because the majority of Yukoners who lack a Grade 12 education are First Nation, a big part of the Yukon’s programs will be geared towards that community.
“We’ve already started working in collaboration with our First Nation partners,” said Tosh Southwick, the director of First Nation initiatives at Yukon College.
“Our next step will be to meet with our community organizations, including literacy organizations, to see how we can partner with them to make this as effective as we possibly can for the next few years”
That consultation with communities is essential, she said.
“We know that what works in Whitehorse may not work in my community of Burwash,” said Southwick. “They’re very, very different and we need to acknowledge that the people living there are the experts.”
While the $27-million fund will only be available for five years, the hope is that the programming it builds will survive for much longer, she said.
“A big portion of this funding is intended to build capacity in the territory so this isn’t something that dries up and disappears,” said Southwick.
“We want to make sure that we’re using these funds wisely so that at the end of five years we have some legacy projects, we’ve built capacity and we can continue on.”
However, not everyone is so pleased with this funding announcement.
“(It’s) nowhere near the kind of resources for education, social housing, mental health, drug treatment and food security desperately needed in the North in order to improve the health, education and well-being of northern Canadians,” the Liberal critic for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Carolyn Bennett said in a release.
While Leef admitted that there is still “a lot more to do,” he was optimistic about the future of northern education.
“I think the Yukon government and the Yukon College are doing a fantastic job to reach out to the Yukon communities to make sure that every Yukoner has access to these kinds of programs.”
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