Support for High School Students and Adult Learners

Opening Statement to the Standing Committee on Oversight of Government Operations and Public Accounts

Support for High School Students and Adult Learners

(2019 June Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut)

25 September 2019

Terry Dejong
Assistant Auditor General

Unnusakkut. Good afternoon. Mr. Chair, we are pleased to be here in Iqaluit today to discuss our report on support for high school students and adult learners in Nunavut. The report was tabled in the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut on June 4, 2019. With me today are James McKenzie, Principal, and Adrienne Scott, senior auditor, who were responsible for this audit.

In this audit, we wanted to know how well the Department of Education, Nunavut Arctic College, and the Department of Family Services were supporting high school students’ transition through school to post-secondary education and employment.

We also wanted to know what access adult learners had to programs that would allow them to upgrade core academic and literacy skills, obtain their high school diploma, and become eligible to enter post-secondary education programs.

Education is important to the well-being of individuals and Nunavut as a whole. Education and training that prepare children, youth, and adult learners to make positive contributions to society and to enter into meaningful employment are priorities of the Government of Nunavut.

Overall, we found a number of gaps and barriers in Nunavut’s education system that made it difficult for high school students and adult learners to succeed academically and transition to post-secondary education and employment.

Many high school students face challenges in completing high school. We found that guidance and career planning were not being offered consistently to students. For example, only two of the seven high schools we examined had teachers assigned to help students navigate the challenging path to post-secondary education and employment. Students were being offered hands‑on learning experiences, but few had work placements that would help them build on these learning experiences. We also found that Nunavut Arctic College did limited outreach to inform high school students of its programs.

We found that despite the many challenges students faced, the Department of Education did not have a strategy that outlined actions it and other partners could take to help students graduate and transition from high school. Furthermore, despite difficulties in hiring and keeping staff, the Department did not have a recruitment and retention strategy to address its human resource needs.

We found that adult learners also faced barriers to furthering their education. For example, over the past five school years, Nunavut Arctic College did not offer its adult basic education program for adult learners who wanted to develop their literacy and academic skills in most of Nunavut’s communities. Adult learners also struggled to access the territory’s online adult high school program, and once they were accepted into the program, getting enough credits to obtain their high school diplomas was a further problem. Lack of access to adult basic education can prevent learners from earning their high school diplomas to enter the trades and other post-secondary programs, including those offered by the College.

In contrast, the College did offer its Essential Skills program, which prepares learners for semi skilled jobs, more frequently and in more communities.

According to Nunavut Arctic College, many applicants required academic upgrading to be eligible to attend its programs. We found that the College offered preparatory programs, but because of funding constraints, it could offer them in only a few communities. As a result, many adult learners would be forced to leave their communities to access these programs.

Learners taking these programs are eligible for financial aid, however the aid does not cover the expenses of dependents. We also found that financial aid was not available to adults taking high school courses, learners taking most adult basic education courses, or learners studying part-time. This limited access to financial aid could be a further barrier for adult learners who wish to complete their education.

We made 12 recommendations to the three organizations involved in the audit, and all agreed with our recommendations.

Nunavut’s people are its greatest asset and education is critical their success and the future of Nunavut. It is important that the Department of Education, Nunavut Arctic College, and the Department of Family Services work together to overcome the gaps and barriers we noted in the audit to help high school students and adult learners get the support they need to succeed.

This concludes my opening statement. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.