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Teacher training program needs overhaul

Yukon College should rebuild its teacher training program from the ground up, a report released yesterday recommends. The extensive review of the Yukon Native Teacher Education Program found widespread concerns.

Yukon College should rebuild its teacher training program from the ground up, a report released yesterday recommends.

The extensive review of the Yukon Native Teacher Education Program found widespread concerns about the quality of the program and its graduates.

“Stated bluntly, we were surprised by both the volume of issues related to quality, as well as the harshness of the criticism,” the report reads.

Dr. Thomas Fleming from the University of Victoria and Dr. Colin Chasteauneuf from the University of Northern British Columbia have spent the past year interviewing, meeting with and collecting surveys from anyone in the Yukon with anything to say about the program.

Although students currently in the program will continue with their studies, no new intake of students will occur until the college has developed a plan for how to move forward.

Those who responded to the surveys and showed up for meetings expressed concern about the basic abilities in writing, reading and math of some graduates of the program. This critique was heard even from former students themselves.

One graduate, who attended in the early years of the program, assessed her reading and writing level at that time as “at about Grade 7,” according to the report.

“In an effort to try and get as many students and teachers out there, in some cases some of the admission requirements might have been relaxed a little bit,” said Bill Dushenko, the college’s vice-president of academics.

The college takes responsibility for the issues with the perceived quality of graduates and for other concerns brought up by the report, said Tosh Southwick, the director of First Nation initiatives.

“People said, ‘We have to do better,’ and this was uniform both inside and outside the First Nations community,” said Fleming, the report’s author.

The report traced both real and perceived concerns about the quality of the program back to its roots.

The program was hastily installed in 1989 “as a stopgap measure” under political pressure to increase the dismal representation of First Nation educators in schools.

At the time, only one of the Yukon’s 435 elementary school teachers was of First Nation heritage.

“From the very beginning the program found itself at a bit of a disadvantage because it didn’t really have the time to play catch-up, to bring these folks up to standard in their academic background,” said Fleming.

The University of Regina was hired to run the program as a satellite to their own. This relationship meant that YNTEP never fully integrated with Yukon College.

“This program, in some ways it was kind of an orphan. It was located at Yukon College, but not really under the control of Yukon College; it was in Whitehorse, but not really in the control of the government,” Fleming said.

As a result of this relationship with the University of Regina and of the failure to conduct any extensive review in the program’s 23 year history, YNTEP has grown and changed very little since its inception.

“YNTEP’s elementary program looks much the same as it did in its infancy nearly a quarter of a century ago. Even then, the program was not new in its contents or approaches,” the report states.

While the program has changed little, expectations have grown significantly.

The original goal of the program was to simply get more First Nation teachers into schools. Indeed, the proportion of aboriginal teachers has grown from almost zero to nearly 10 per cent.

However, over the years there has been growing confusion about what the cultural component of the program should be.

Some respondents suggested that the program graduates should have a deep knowledge of aboriginal languages and culture, an expectation that the report found to be perhaps unreasonable.

The authors recommended re-imagining the program from the ground up.

They suggested starting with a name change, to the Yukon Bachelor of Education Program. This would signal a turning point in the program’s history, and reflect the fact that since 2004 non-First Nation individuals have been admitted to the program.

The report indicated that there is widespread agreement that the opening up of the program is no longer an issue, and a broadened focus on educating Yukoners to teach in the Yukon is where the program needs to go in the future.

“I think it’s an exciting shift in the focus. As a First Nation person, but more importantly as a parent, it doesn’t matter to me if you’re First Nation or not First Nation, you’d better be a good teacher when you’re teaching my kids. That’s my priority,” said Southwick.

The report recommended scrapping the relationship with the University of Regina and building a program that is truly made in the Yukon, building on the arts and science course offerings already available at the college.

There are many strengths to build on, the report suggested. People are proud of having a teacher education degree program located in Whitehorse, and YNTEP has enjoyed ongoing political support.

The next step is to establish a committee of stakeholders to discuss the findings and recommendations of the report and plan a way forward, Dushenko said.

“What we’d like to do is build the best program that we can for Yukoners, a program that produces Yukon teachers for educating the Yukon,” he said.

Fleming is hopeful that the Yukon has the talent, resources and ambition to create that program.

“I’m immensely hopeful that something good will take place here,” he said.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at