The Yukon Party decided to make Tuesday all about schooling with a handful of election promises all around education.
A new Yukon Party government would start a high school program targeting students interested in the trades, said Scott Kent, a former education minister and the party’s candidate in Copperbelt South.
The program would give students a chance to try out trades at a younger age, Kent said.
“There are about 450 registered apprentices in the territory right now. The jobs are there, the opportunity is there.”
The idea is to create a program similar to what exists at Whitehorse’s Wood Street School. There students earn credit by taking classes focused on music, art and drama as well as outdoor education.
“Trade students would be the same,” said Doug Graham, the candidate for Whitehorse Centre and current education minister.
“So they would be able to get a math credit when they work on specific math-related opportunities during trades training.”
Graham also promised to expand the territory’s Rural Experiential Model (REM) classes beyond the communities and into Whitehorse.
In 2013 the department started bringing students from outside Whitehorse to one host community for a week’s worth of hands-on classes.
Students might learn about carving, aesthetics or robotics, all while earning credits.
Watson Lake and Dawson City have both played host. Faro also hosted a two-day event for rural junior high students.
“When I interview those students after Rural Experiential Model has taken place, they rave about how important it is that we continue to do this because they learn more … than they do sitting in a classroom for months on end,” Graham said.
“It’s really important that we not only continue, but expand it.”
Programs like the Rural Experiential Model can help the territory improve its graduation rates, including for First Nations students, Graham said.
Yukon First Nations students have a much lower grad rate than non-First Nations students.
According to last year’s statistics, 57.3 per cent of First Nations students who started Grade 8 in 2009 graduated by the 2014-2015 year. Twenty-eight per cent of students had dropped out. The rest were still in school.
For non-First Nation students during the same time period, the grad rate was 79.8 per cent with a 13.1 per cent drop out rate.
Numbers for the 2015-2016 school year are not available yet.
The Yukon Party has committed to embedding First Nations culture in all levels of school curriculum.
The Yukon gets its basic curriculum from British Columbia.
“But the B.C. program has given us the flexibility that we need to incorporate First Nations culture, First Nations language, and other methods of learning as well as other northern perspectives … in general curriculum,” Graham said.
The department has a First Nations program and partnerships branch that works on programs with a First Nations focus.
Last year it released a Grade 10 social studies unit about residential schools.
That unit took about a year to put together, Graham said.
Many First Nations have their own curriculum material to share, he said. By working together “it’s going to be much easier and much quicker for us to utilize those materials that have already been developed in many First Nations.”
Graham trumpeted six educations agreements the territory has signed with various Yukon First Nations. Those agreements specify what is going to be accomplished when it comes to education and provide timelines, he said.
The News has repeatedly asked the Department of Education to see copies of the agreements.
Graham seemed surprised to find out the newspaper was being denied access.
“Unless the First Nations themselves have disagreed, then I don’t see the problem,” he said.
Following the interview the Department of Education again denied the News access.
“We will not be sharing any of the education agreements without the permission of the Yukon First Nation governments and until we have a plan in place that outlines how the priorities in each of the agreements will be implemented,” department spokesperson Kyle Nightingale said in an email.
“We will be checking with the First Nations on sharing these agreements, however, these will not be released until after the election.”
The Yukon Party is also promising to create a technology education plan that promotes computer literacy, coding, and education around information and communications technology.
Entrepreneurs in the tech field often emerge before they go to university, said Vanessa Innes, the party’s candidate for Takhini-Kopper King.
“We want to encourage that at an early age, and work with the tech sector to support that activity in schools.”
Exactly what that would look like isn’t clear. Innes said the government will have to look into the supports teachers need and engage with the tech sector.
“And my understanding from many people in the tech world is that they’re keen to do it.”
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