Assignment Paper: Analysing Inuit Dropout as an Issue in the North

Consider Dropout. For an individual student or family, dropping out of school may mean limited job employment opportunities and lower income. It may also mean that the individual’s literacy and numerary levels are lower so they have more difficulty surviving in a world where reading, writing and arithmetic is valued. Also teachers may personally feel at risk in their jobs if many of their students are dropping out (no students, no need for a teacher.) These examples illustrate how dropout can be classified as a personal trouble.

However, when ninety percent of Inuit students in Canada leave before high school graduation (Hagstrom, Kleinfeld, & McDiarmid,1989), this is an indication of a structural issue having to do with the institution of schools and the value placed on education by the community and Inuit people. Especially when the government of Nunavut is trying to build a future of trained, educated Inuit people to run the territory, drop out becomes not just a social issue but is often considered a crisis.

According to Mills (1959), the question becomes: if school and education is valued by society then it is an issue; if not, it is simply defined as the trouble of an individual who values education. Through talking to parents and elders in this community over the past seven years, I believe that education is valued by this community and by the Nunavut government (whose platform voices education as key). Thus, education is valued by the public as a whole and dropout threatens this value. Dropout is a social issue.

As a teacher in the isolated Inuit community of Taloyoak, Nunavut, I consider dropout to be a serious problem; not only dropout, but poor attendance and low educational attainment prior to dropping out are problems. Over the last seven years, there has been a push for the development of community high schools in these isolated student populations. Over the last decade, the territorial government has promoted grade extensions in most communities across the north. Before this students were forced to attend high school in larger centres like Yellowknife and Cambridge Bay. When faced with the additional stress of living away from home and life in a big city, many students dropped out of school to return to low paying jobs or welfare. Taloyoak had its first graduating class of twelve students four years ago. There was much celebration about the success of these students. However, the rate of dropout is still very high. Poor attendance and high truancy leads to students leaving school early. Having a community high school is not the only solution to the dropout problem.

In small schools, all teachers become career counsellors and advisors. Although many times we have been given no special training on how to appropriately advise students with respect to future prospects, we find ourselves often trying to make appropriate suggestions to students who are at risk. Following Mills (1959) example of social imagination, it is important that educators try to see all perspectives of an issue. This is often hard to do because educators like to believe that all children can learn and all children can succeed in school. We want to be able to reach all children.

This paper is an attempt to analyse the issue of dropout from all perspectives not just from the point of view of the teacher. To do so requires a framework that can examine a number of factors. Inuit dropout is a complex issue that extends beyond the walls of the school and into the community and family. It also deals with cross-cultural relationships because many of the teachers and administration are non-Native people from the south. Also the education system used in the most places in the north is a borrowed system originally designed for non-Native children from Europe. To consider all of these factors in a systematic way, Connor’s (1987) Social Compass is a justifiable framework to use. However, the Social Compass (Connor,1987) is not totally sufficient for all aspects that required to be examined. Thus a combination framework from Connor (1987), Dillman (Gougeon, unpublished) and Mills (1959) can be used to see beyond the initial reactions of student dropout. It is important to value the various perspectives on this serious issue.

According to Mills (1959), the sociological imagination is the quality of mind or the connection of a variety of levels; it is the bringing together of everything. To examine the dropout issue with respect to sociological imagination requires that we have the capacity to shift from one point of view to another and examine a range of perspectives from all the various stakeholders who are effected by Inuit dropout.

It is important to consider the perspectives of all individuals, groups, organisations, institutions, and community people who are affected by Inuit student dropout. I believe that the following list considers most everyone involved: student; parent; elder; community leaders; Nunavut leaders/ government; employment agencies; teachers and principals. In small communities like those isolated Inuit communities in Nunavut, "the smallness of a community enables people to know each other intimately and even to know their extended families" (Gougeon, unpublished, p. 9); thus everyone is affected by student dropout and school failure.

One way to start to analyse the dropout situation is to use Connor’s (1987) Social Compass. The Social Compass (Connor, 1987) is a set of twelve elements which direct attention to key aspects of the community as a social system. According to Connor (1987), the Social Compass provides a systematic coverage of the community; the points of the Social Compass are interrelated so that a change in one element will cause a shift in all other elements. Because I believe that dropout is a social issue, Connor's twelve elements can be used to examine the issue as it relates to community.

To begin this study, we must understand how Connor’s Social Compass can be made relevant to the dropout issue. Connor (1987) encourages readers to think about questions that may need to be asked about issue of dropout before we can totally understand. The following section reviews each of the twelve points of the Social Compass by asking questions to clarify understanding.

Connor (1987) begins his discussion of the Social Compass by discussing History. When we think about student dropout we easily find ourselves wondering what the history of education is for Inuit. We also question what the general feeling is about education. Until recently "education was not compulsory in the NWT" (Tompkins, 1998, p. 38). Tompkins (1998) goes on to report that "those children attending school are doing so because they want to be there" and "social convention may mean that students will continue having to get up alone and come to school unfed or poorly fed" (p. 38). If leaders want to increase attendance we have to create an environment where students find school "rewarding, exciting and challenging enough to gladly attend" (Tompkins, 1998, p. 38). Parents also must view the school as a positive place, one where they will want to send their children.

Over the last two decades there has been much uncovered about the many negative school experiences for natives in residential and boarding schools. One has to question if these negative parental feelings about school result in allowing children to dropout.

Historically, Inuit youth were taught through observation; it was a "watch and learn" philosophy and a hands-on methodology. Native language was invariably used and older generations passed on the important skills with respect for culture. Success meant survival and failure meant death for both you and your family. Thus, History on the Social Compass brings to light many factors of education that influences today’s dropout issue.

The second compass point that Connor(1987) describes is Space Relations. Space Relations refers to both the internal and external relations of the community. In the case of education, Connor encourages readers to analyse the physical layout of the school and how the school relates within the community and with other educational agencies.

As mentioned early, community high schools are relatively new in the north. Our school was originally a kindergarten to grade nine unit; about five years ago we slowly added grades to the school so that we now are able to offer grade twelve programs. Connor (1987) encourages us to analyse the physical layout of a K- 12 school: Is such a set up appropriate for students who want to graduate from high school?

Externally, we must examine how the school relates to the community and other educational agencies. Because many of our students, especially females, have children perhaps a day care should be included at the high school end to ensure that these students will be able to attend school. Also, Nunavut Arctic College (N.A.C.) is present in Taloyoak; this educational agency uses students from northern schools as a feeder system into its upper level programs. In Taloyoak, N.A.C. is attached to the school that is located in the centre of town. The school and N.A.C. work together as the learning centre of town.

Connor (1987) next discusses Resources. This compass point includes important issues like "origin and education of teachers; rate of turnover; teachers-students ratio; salaries . . . education and the interest of parents" (Connor, 1987, p.32). Schools in the north tend to have a very high turnover of staff; this year alone, Netsilik School had eight new teachers in a staff of fifteen. All of these teachers are non-Native, are from the south and have never worked with Inuit students before.

Tompkins (1998), in her book Teaching in a Cold and Windy Place: Change in an Inuit School, writes about her observations as a principal in a small Inuit school. She describes the misconceptions between the southern (Qallunaaq) teachers and the Inuit community and how this filters down into the attitudes towards the school. (In the Inuktitut language, the word qallunaaq refers to all non-Inuit people.) Tompkins (1988) believes that high rates of teacher turnover (teachers leaving the community after two or three years) appears to impact greatly on the image of the school:

As the school grew larger and staff turnover increased . . . the community began to believe that Qallunaaq staff did not like the community or the children because they left the community after one or two years. Community members became less comfortable being in the school environment. The new Qallunaaq teachers who arrived in the community sensed the community’s standoffishness and interpreted it to mean that the community did not care about the education of the children. At this point there were few if any Inuit educators in the school to help Qallunaaq teachers with their perceptions of the community. Consequently, these teachers became frustrated with what they perceived to be the lack of community support and did not stay long. In a sense, both the Qallunaaq teachers’ and the community’s perceptions were true, and a vicious cycle began. (Tompkins, 1998, 23)

This vicious cycle repeats itself over and over again in schools where there is constantly a high turnover of staff; staff who do not understand the perspectives of Inuit beliefs about education.

It takes a very long time to build ownership in a school and in student success. Time is also important when attempting to build a sense of community with others. Teachers who are only planning to spend a short period of time in a community can have a negative effect on student and may actually increase the rate of dropout. The Social Compass point, Resources, directs attention to these important factors to dropout.

Another author, Dillman (Gougeon, unpublished) argues that "that four characteristics of small isolated communities discussed ... are responsible for the creation of discernible patterns of how people interact with others" (p. 9). Dillman (Gougeon, unpublished) relates to Connor’s Social Compass (1987) in that Resources refers to people and how people interact.


Dillman (Gougeon, unpublished) describes small isolated communities as those where people know each other, are highly similar, are place-bound, and have overlapping institutional memberships. This description matches well for small communities like Taloyoak; however, the description does not bode well for what occurs within the actual school community in the same town. For one, southern teachers who come north to teach are selected from all over Canada; it is very rare for teachers to know one another before arriving.

Secondly, in many cases the only thing in common between these people is that they are all teachers; occasionally people find similarities but generally these similar lifestyles are not practised in the north (for example, two teachers may enjoy bike riding, scuba diving, or simply going to a bar on Fridays; unfortunately, these activities can not be practised due to locality).

Thirdly, the majority of southern teachers do not feel place-bound. They do not see Taloyoak as their home; nor do they see themselves "belonging to extended families reaching back in time several generations" (Gougeon, unpublished, p. 9). Thus, Dillman (Gougeon, unpublished) believes that these people do not feel a "fundamental obligation and responsibility to others" (p. 9) within the local community. Their actions to leave after one or two years are generally in response to their own needs rather than the needs of the community or the need of students of the school.

Finally, Dillman (Gougeon, unpublished) discusses the overlap of institutional memberships to be a characteristic of small isolated communities. Although teachers generally "work with their neighbours, shop at the same store . . . and coach their neighbour’s children at hockey" (Gougeon, unpublished, p. 9), these decisions are not out of choice but are rather out of necessity.

Thus, Dillman (Gougeon, unpublished) may have hit on a need of northern schools; by improving the sense of community within the school or what Connor (1987) calls Resources, schools may be better able to attack the problem of student success and teacher ownership.

Connor (1987) also refers to the materials that are in schools as resources: Do the materials used in schools promote Inuit culture and language? Are these resources relative to the experiences of the Inuit student? Without a doubt, this aspect is a concern for northern educators. Over the last seven years a curriculum resource and framework, called Innuqatigiit (NWT, 1996) has been created on which all other curricula are required to be placed. This document is the Inuit perspective on education and it is to be use as the foundation for all teaching done within the school from kindergarten to grade 12.

Even though teachers strive to use as much Inuit based material as possible, there is still a problem with language and translation. So much of the material is in English and has to be taught by English speaking teachers. Unfortunately this does not send a positive message to Inuit students or parents about the value of Inuit language and culture.

Connor’s (1987) fourth point on the Social Compass is Technology: "teaching techniques, philosophy of education, formal and informal methods used in school and out to school" (p. 32). Earlier, this paper discussed briefly the watch and learn methods of traditional Inuit teaching and the resulting hands-on approach. Stark contrast is found in the ways that we currently are teaching Inuit students. Teachers are constantly talking, explaining, lecturing and telling students what they need to know. Although there is encouragement to use hands-on, relevant learning experiences in classrooms, the primary teaching methodology is still very passive.

Tompkins (1998) talks about this need for teachers to understand culture and the unique learning styles of Inuit students. She states that:

Good teachers everywhere should have a strong understanding of how to individualise instruction for the wide range of students in a class. The wide ability level found in any regular southern class is perhaps further widened in the North by factors of second-language usage and varying attendance patterns on the part of the children. . . Teachers must have a good understanding of first - and second - language learning . . . Qallunaaq teachers should be able to work effectively in a cross-cultural situation - with children, with fellow workers, and with the large community. . And it would help immensely if teachers had some first-hand understanding of poverty and isolation so that they could start to understand some of the forces at work in the community. Ambitious challenges indeed! ( p. 28)

These challenges are ambitious and they can be considered from all perspectives using Connor (1987).

Connor (1987) forces educators to question if these methods are concurrent with the techniques of Inuit peoples. Going beyond this question lies the more serious issue at hand: Are the teaching techniques and philosophies currently being used in northern schools negatively effecting the dropout rate for Inuit students? Unfortunately, more study is needed in this area to truly determine the affect of teaching techniques on dropout rates for Inuit.

The fifth point to be discussed from the Social Compass of Connor (1987) is Knowledge and Beliefs. Connor (1987) forces us to ask: What are the beliefs of this community with respect to educational attainment? How knowledgeable about the school are people in this community? How do the knowledge and beliefs of this community reflect on the students who decide to attend or not to attend? These questions are not easily answered and they have direct influence on the dropout issue.

From my experience, people in Taloyoak want their children to do well; parents come to interviews and have a genuine concern for their children. Elders were especially interested in having a community high school because they remember the sad events of having their own children sent away to residential schools in the south. Unfortunately, once students get to be teenagers, many parents have problems getting their children to come to school. Until the high school was developed, it was acceptable for students to dropout at the age of sixteen. The NWT Education Act has provisions to charge parents who do not send their children (under 16 years) to school. However, for a myriad of reason, parents are rarely ever charged.

Not unnoticed is a concern about the adequacy of the educational system; the horrendous events of residential school is not yet forgotten and the shadow of distrust still lingers. In some cases this shadow is cast darkly over new teachers who are challenged to prove themselves worthy to students, parents and community.

Values and Sentiments is a sixth point on the Social Compass (Connor, 1987). This compass point asks about the value which is placed on education by adults and youth in Taloyoak. Again, most parents want to be considered "good"; they try to get their children to school and they want their children to be "good" at school as well. Unfortunately, once children get to a certain age, there is a lack of importance attached to school. Some community people place a higher value on traditional education (on the land skills, hunting etc.) than on formal education. Others feel that formal education (a grade 12 diploma) is comes first. What still needs to be studied are the values and sentiments of those students who dropout. This issue will be further discussed in the latter part of this paper.

Another point on the Social Compass is Goals and Felt Needs (Connor, 1987). This point deals with the educational aims of community for students. As mentioned earlier, student dropout by the age of 16 years was very common before the community high school was developed in Taloyoak. Now that attaining a grade twelve diploma is possible at home, more students are taking on the challenge and attempting to finish school. Taloyoak had it’s first graduating class four years ago; there were twelve students recommended to sit for Alberta Departmental Exams. Unfortunately, since this first graduation only two other students have successfully completed their grade twelve.

The District Educational Authority (D.E.A.), a community council of people interested in education, states that the goal for every student is to graduate. However, the local people may have other goals that are not publicly announced. Some parents report that the school should be teaching more vocational program sand cultural skills like kamatiq (sled) building and kamiq (skin boot) sewing. Unfortunately, there are not many available jobs in the community that require a high level of education despite the promise of the Nunavut government to create high status jobs. Thus, neither students nor parents can see a convincing reason to push themselves into education. Students may need to clarify their goals in order to get motivated to continue their education through grade 12 and into post-secondary education and training.

Connor’s (1987) next point on the Social Compass is Norms. Norms refers to the standards of conduct in educational affairs; this includes discipline problems and percentage of attendance. The Social Compass requires that we focus on questions like: What are the historical norms for students/parents/teachers in the community? What is expected by parents of their students insofar as educational attainment? What is socially acceptable by the community? Is dropout accepted and if so how can we change this image? Again, these are not easy questions to answer without much study. It requires that one look carefully at the perspectives of parents, students and teachers.

Attendance is definitely a problem that relates directly to dropout. From my perspective, I believe that attendance is a very strong determinate for dropout in Inuit schools. In her study, Tompkins (1998) describes how her school was able to increase attendance of her students once those working in the school decided that it was both necessary and possible to tackle this problem. I believe that community people have to raise their standards of acceptance for attendance in order to make a positive impact on dropout.

Rupert Ross (1992), in his book Dancing with a Ghost: Exploring Indian Reality, makes an interesting argument for the ethic of non-interference. He believes that the ethic of non-interference is one of the oldest and pervasive ethics practised by Native people. Ross (1992) writes that in the Native society it is wrong for one person to interfere with another’s choices or actions. This ethic is most very evident when it comes to child rearing; Ross (1992) compares the mainstream practices with those of the Native practices:

In essence, traditional rules required parents to permit their children to make their own choice in virtually every aspect of life. In the contemporary world, it stands as a requirement that parents let their children decide what is best in everything, from bedtimes, clothing, and school attendance to selection of friends, and eating habits. Nor can parents "teach" their children in our sense of the word, by either words or special demonstration. Instead, children must learn on their own, by watching and by emulating what they see. . . . the "modelling" approach to educate, an approach to be used whether the task is as simple as putting on a pair of trousers or as complex as mending a canoe. There can be no cajolery, no praise or punishment, no withholding of privileges or promising of rewards. It is up to the child to conserve constantly and carefully, to study entirely on their own (p. 16).

Thus, this ethic of non-interference evident in Native culture directly influences what is happening in schools.

The school system is modelled after non-Native standards where cajolery, praise, punishment, withholding of privileges or rewards are acceptable teaching methods. Compared to southern, non-native standards, Inuit students have a great deal of power over their school choices; the Ethic of Non- Interference explains why most parents have difficulties forcing their children to attend school once the child has decided they no long want to attend. Although they may want to see their child do well in school, it would be wrong in the Inuit culture to interfere with the child’s right to behave as they please. Of course this ethic of non-interference is an element that is often overlooked as non-Natives find it easier to believe that Native parents simply do not care for their children or are unfit parents.

Positions and Roles is next on the framework. The elected positions in the school system are the members of the D.E.A. Their role is complex: a liaison between community and school, responsible for a budget to support programs in the school, involvement in school staffing, input into school year planning and other roles. As a vice-principal, I attend the monthly D.E.A. meetings as a non-voting member. From discussions during meetings, it is obvious that the D.E.A. is aware of the problem attendance and dropout in Taloyoak. The crux of the question becomes how we can get more interest and awareness of the dropout issue with those positions that will work toward positive change.

Power, Leadership and Influence (Connor’s (1987) is directly related to Positions and Roles. It examines how well the D.E.A. is able to promote education to the community and what it can do to better to encourage and teach the community about the importance of school. The D.E.A. often uses communication systems, like local radio and community meetings, to encourage parents to send their students to school. Usually this type of encouragement occurs at the beginning of the school year; an improvement might be to have these announcements made regularly throughout the year or week.

Connor (1987) also questions how well the administration of the school is able to influence parents and students. As part of the administration of the school, I know that the administration is frustrated with the levels being attained by students and the negative results of poor attendance.

In Taloyoak, the track record for leaders and their control over the school is quite good. We have been lucky to have had the same principal for the last ten years; she is well respected by the community and although she is originally from the south, she has been in Taloyoak for fifteen years and has married a respectable Inuit man with some status in the community. The administration is also very lenient about returning students; quite a few of our students have continuously dropped out of school only to return the next year or semester. Each time they ask to return to school, the principal accepts their application and gives the student a fresh start. All of these things are positive and work to influence students and parents to give school a second try.

The second last point to be discussed on the Social Compass (Connor, 1987) is Social Rank. Connor (1987) asks us to consider: How should the teacher fit in their social position with students/parents? Because many of the teachers in Netsilik School are originally from the south, they may not have much influence on the ideas that are discussed in various groupings about education by the local Inuit people. Certain local people rate higher than school personnel and their ideas are taken more seriously than ours.

Also, Connor (1987) encourages readers to ask : How do the groupings of students in the class influence dropout? I find this to be an interesting idea. Of course, students have a tendency to group themselves and there is an element of organisation in their friendships. Some groups are family networks and others are not. Arguably, it may be an element of peer pressure, which results in high dropout.

Finally, Sanctions is the last point on Connor’s (1987) Social Compass: How are our rewards and punishments in line with what is expected of parents in the community? Are the punishments/rewards working against intrinsic motivation and thus encouraging students to give up when the going gets tough?

All people want children to become decent human beings but many people have not thought carefully at the ways in which they are going about it. Kohn (1998) writes about the negative results of the attempts by schools to teach using punishments and rewards. These elaborate reward systems often bring artificial results.

Kohn (1998) states: "When people are rewarded for doing something, the more likely they are to lose interest in what they had to do to get the reward" (p. 430). Some children in my school will not even play an educational game without asking first about the type of prize to be awarded to the winner. So programmed are the students to receiving a reward that they no longer enjoy playing the game. Had these teachers critically examined their programs through the eyes of Kohn (1998), they might be willing to put more effort into gaining lasting results and less effort into purchasing rewards.

What is interesting to note is that traditionally in the Inuit culture young people were not given rewards or punishments as such. Inuit used social actions like gossip, teasing etc as punishments for behaviour unacceptable to group standards. Rewards were hardly given except through brief acknowledgement. The reward for doing something right was group acceptance, family pride, and self-esteem. Failure meant eventual death so youth worked hard to learn the skills for survival.

It may be interesting to note that not many of the skills and information taught in today’s schools necessarily deals with physical survival. Failure in school does not mean death; it only means social assistance. Fortunately, most people can survive somehow on social assistance in the Inuit culture. Giving up on school in today’s world is not the same as giving up on learning in the traditional Inuit world. Students need intrinsic motivation to encourage them to stay in school.

Kohn (1998) writes that children should be given more of a voice in the decisions that effect them so that they can see how their actions attribute to the outcome. Never before has it been so important for children to be able to make sense of their own situations and be able to make appropriate decisions for themselves. One of these appropriate decisions may be whether or not to stay in school.

The Social Compass (Connor, 1987) is a good starting point in considering dropout as a social issue as defined by Mills (1959). The compass has twelve points that can be used to map out the patterns that people in the community display with respect to the dropout situation and its impending impact on the educational system in the north. The twelve points provide a systematic coverage of the isolated community of Taloyoak.

As Connor (1987) notes, "each element is related to each other element, so the change in one will eventually result in a change in all of the others" (p. 9). This can be illustrated when one considers the Knowledge and Beliefs element. In mainstream society, parents believe that a good education will provide a good livelihood and therefore it is the Norm in the society to send children to school because the Social Rank says that education is the Goal of youth. in Inuit culture this may not always be the case. The discussion above demonstrates where these differences lie.

Although the Social Compass (Connor, 1987) provides a focus for analysing the community’s attitude to education; it is not necessarily the best framework to analyse a complex issue like Inuit dropout. The Inuit dropout issue is very multifaceted so analysing this issue using a system of twelve interrelated elements can be overwhelming. In many of the elements, only the surface is scratched and the depth of information is limited.

Unfortunately, Connor’s (1987) Social Compass deals only with the community at large. It does not allow for a deep discussion on those who are directly effected by the dropout situation. Connor (1987) is a good place to start looking at the drop out issue but it should not be considered the only way to analyse this situation.

To balance the analysis of the complex issue of dropout of Inuit students, other authors have been integrated into the framework to allow for more depth of thought. Dillman (Gougeon, unpublished) deals with the interactions between people and the issue of dropout directly impacts these interactions. Interactions and attitudes between people who are impacted by the dropout issue are also important in this analysis. It is important that we consider all perspectives of the dropout issue. The following discussion uses sociology imagination (Mills, 1959) within the framework of the Social Compass (Connor, 1987).

After analysing the situation here in Taloyoak using the Social Compass (Connor, 1987), one wonders how much emphasis should be given to keeping Inuit students in school. Mills (1959) encourages those concerned to see the issue from all perspectives: student; parent; elder; community leaders; Nunavut leaders/ government; employment agencies; teachers and principal. The following sections deals briefly with these perspectives by examining the reasons to stay in school and the reasons to dropout.

The most obvious stakeholder is the student. Students may choose to stay in school for a number of reasons. Dropping out means no diploma, low educational attainment, lack of skills, inability to read/write, limited job aspirations, lower qualifications, inability to go into post-secondary educational programs, and dependency on Social Assistance for income.

However, students may choose to dropout for an array of reasons. They may have difficulties finding a babysitter or be pregnant (teen pregnancy is on the rise in Taloyoak). Students may want more time to hunt, look after elders or simply want some free time. Other students leave school because they are dealing with family problems or psychological problems (suicide, depression, grief, etc). Many student are not ready (skills/abilities) for high school even though they are older students; they many dropout of high school to enter Adult Basic Education programs offered from Nunavut Arctic college. Other students drop out of school because they have found jobs elsewhere or have entered into lower qualification programs. As a non-Native teacher, it may be hard to validate some of these reasons but for students any one of these many reasons could justify dropping out of high school.

Parents are also affected by their students’ decision. Parents may encourage their children to stay in school because want something better for child and they may feel a sense of pride from having a child who graduates. Parents may also be depending on their children to contribute to the family income and thus the child will need a good job. Some parents may wish for their children to gain some independence from the family home.

However, parents may counsel their children to drop out of school because they need help at home or to hunt for food. Parents may want the family to live on land and learn traditional land skills. Students may be depended on to contribute to family income and thus they are sent out to work. Some students are forced to dropout in order to deal with family difficulties or because the parents feel that the student is having too many fights with teachers or the school.

Elders had much input into to the restructuring of the educational system into community high schools. Many elders often counsel students to stay in school because they see value in learning beyond traditional skills; they express the wish for teachers to teach their students things that they cannot. The dream of Nunavut encourages elders to want students to be involved in Nunavut. However, some elders may not recommend students to stay in school. They may need help or want their children to spend more time learning traditional skills.

Teachers are obviously affected by their students choosing to dropout of school. As a teacher, I know the frustration of having a class of fifteen dwindle down to three by the end of the semester. Having a large class graduate instils a sense of pride in one's school. Teachers generally want to see students succeed. We find it very frustrating teaching poor attenders and those who are not serious. High dropout rates may also influence the level of job satisfaction that teachers feel.

Even though teachers want their students to stay in school, dropping out may be counselled if students are not serious, simply distracting others, having too many fights or are not ready to be at school. Students who consistently fail make teachers look ineffective. Finally, these returning students keep teachers in business so it may not be seen as a problem when students drop out.


Principals feel the consequences of a high dropout rate in their schools. They counsel students to stay in school for many reasons. Hopefully, they feel that staying in school will benefit the student. They may also want students to stay in school because school funding is related to attendance rates. Ineffective schools are also associated with high dropout rate. A high turnover of staff may be the result of demoralising job situations where students are not succeeding because of attendance. Like teachers, principals may feel that dropout is an option in situations where the student is not be ready to be in school (psychological, social, moral problems).

Community leaders and the Nunavut government openly promote students to stay in school. Community leaders would like to see students not be dependent on Social Assistance. Many believe that there will be less social problems when there’s more educated people. The Nunavut government needs educated students to take over jobs in communities from outsiders and take Nunavut jobs in order to run the government with Inuit people. They have pride in Inuit modernisation and would not like to do upgrading for every job available in government.

Finally, outside employment agencies may want educated people to work in the organisations. Like community leaders and the Nunavut government, theses agencies do not want to do extensive training before they are able to maintain standards of a job. They also support students to stay in school which encourage bilingualism skills. However, in places like Taloyoak there are not enough jobs for everyone if all students do end up graduating; thus student dropout works as a screening agent for these companies.

Although it may be hard for educators to see benefits in dropping out of school, there is value in understanding all perspectives from the potential stakeholders. The Social Compass (Connor, 1987) does not allow for this kind of in-depth examination; it considers the whole of the community as its terrain.


Dropout is a social issue as defined by Mills (1959). It is a situation that is at the heart of almost every Inuit school in the north. This issue effects many people and it is important to analyse the situation from as many perspectives as possible. The Social Compass (Connor, 1987) is a good framework to use to systematically define the problem in a general way, looking at the community as the basis of discussion. Connor (1987) forces the reader to develop a set of ideas or questions on what needs to be found out about the dropout issue.

It is unfortunate that Connor (1987) does not allow the opportunity to delve more deeply into the issue by considering the interactions between people and the perspectives each stakeholder has about dropout. Dillman (Gougeon, unpublished) discusses interactions between people in small isolated communities and his work can be integrated into the Social Compass (Connor, 1987) especially within the element of Resources.

What really is important in the analysis of the dropout issue is to use what Mills (1959) calls sociological imagination. This is the quality of mind or the connection of a variety of levels; it is the bringing together of everything. The best way to examine the dropout issue is to have the capacity to shift from one perspective to another and examine a range of perspectives from all the various stakeholders who are effected by Inuit dropout. Connor (1987), Dillman (Gougeon, unpublished) and Mills (1959) as a combined framework may be a superior way to understand this important issue.


Connor, Desmond M. Diagnosing Community Problems. Victoria, B.C.: Development Press, 1987.

Gougeon, T. "Social dynamics in small isolated communities." (unpublished)

Hagstrom, D., Kleinfeld, J., & McDiarmid, G.W. (1989). Small local high schools decrease Alaska Native drop-out rates. Journal of American Indian Education, 28, pp. 24 - 29.

Inuuqatigiit. (1996). Yellowknife: Government of Northwest Territories.

Kohn, A. (1998). How not to teach values: A critical look at character education. Phi Delta Kappan. pp.429 - 439.

Mills, C.W. "Personal troubles and public issues." The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press, 1959.

Ross, R. (1992). Dancing with a Ghost: Exploring Indian Reality. Markham, Ontario: Reed Books.

Tompkins, J. (1998). Teaching in a Cold and Windy Place: Change in an Inuit School. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.