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Automatic passing isn't helping failing students in Canadian Arctic

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic
Creative Commons photo courtesy Shutterhacks (Flickr)

Local education authorities in Canada's eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut are calling for an end to the practice of promoting students who don't pass the tests or do the work required at their grade level. The practice – known as 'social promotion' or 'social passing' – is based on the theory that students stay in school longer when kept with their peers. But both students and District Education Authorities say it is lowering the quality of education.

Danny Ishulutak is a college student in the province of Ontario. But he said high school in the Nunavut community of Pangnirtung barely prepared him for college. "I could say now that it almost stopped me from going to post secondary," said Ishulutak.

The issue of social promotion dominated the annual general meeting of District Education Authorities in Iqaluit this week.

"You know, if you look at Pond Inlet, out of 12 graduates, how many are working?" asked Joe Krimmerdjuar, chair of the Coalition of DEAs. "Maybe two, if lucky. And the rest, I'm sure if they get tested, I'm sure they would be in Grade 6, 7, 8, 9 or somewhere in there."

The chair of the Apex District Education Authority said the Department of Education seems out of touch with the local authorities on the issue.

"It's almost unanimous, you know, the parents, the teachers and the students are frustrated with social promotion," said Alethea Arnaquq-Baril. "It would be nice if the Department of Education was as frustrated with it as we are and was at least able to recognize it as the main problem that we have now."

But the deputy minister of education looks at the issue differently.

"Actually we don't believe in social promotion," said Kathy Okpik. "We believe in continuous progress."

She said the government's policy is to assess students all year, to give them a chance to catch up. DEA members said that's not working.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.