What Can the Community Do?
As a social issue Social Compass (Connor, 1987):
What Can the Community Do?
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 individuals literacy and numeracy levels are lower so they have more difficulty surviving in a world where reading, writing and arithmetic are valued. However, when ninety percent of Inuit students in Canada leave before high school graduation (Hagstrom, Kleinfeld, & McDiarmid, 1989), this is an indication of a systematic 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, dropout becomes not just a social issue but may be considered a crisis.
According to Mills (1959), the debate is whether school and education is valued by society; if so it is an issue. If not, it is simply defined as the trouble of an individual who values education. Many parents and elders in the north believe that education is valued by this community and the Nunavut government, whose platform voices education as key, also emphasizes educational goals. Thus, education is valued by the public as a whole and dropout threatens this value. Dropout is a public issue according to the criteria outlined by Mills (1959) in his article entitled "Personal Troubles and Public Issues".
It is important to analyze the issue of dropout from all perspectives of all individuals, groups, organizations, institutions, and community people who are affected by Inuit student dropout. The 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 settlements 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of a community enables people to know each other intimately and even to know their extended families" (Gougeon, unpublished, p. 9); thus everyone is affected by student dropout and school failure.
To consider all perspectives requires a framework that can examine a number of factors. In this section, the Social Compass from Connor (1987) is a justifiable framework to use. The Social Compass (Connor, 1987) is a twelve point compass in which each point outlines various questions to consider when evaluating a social issue like dropout. The Social Compass (Connor, 1987) allows a variety of perspectives to be considered in a systematic way to help to clarify complex issues. Inuit dropout is such a complex issue which extends beyond the walls of the school and into the community and family. Inuit dropout 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 most places in the North is a borrowed system originally designed for nonnative children of European descent.
One point of the Social Compass is History (Connor, 1987). This point forces us to consider 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); "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" (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 much has been 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 the allowing of their children to dropout. Historically, Inuit youth were taught through observation; it was a "watch and learn" philosophy and an hands-on methodology. Native language was used invariably and older generations passed on the important skills with respect for culture orally. Success meant survival and failure meant death for all members of the family. Thus, History on the Social Compass brings to light many factors of education that influences todays dropout issue.
Another Social Compass point is Space Relations which refers to the external relations of the community: how the school works within the community and with other educational agencies (Connor, 1987). Externally, one must examine how the school relates to the community and other educational agencies. Because many Inuit students, especially females, have children perhaps a day care should be included at the high school to ensure that these students will be able to attend school. As well, Nunavut Arctic College (NAC), could encourage students from Northern schools to enter upper level programs much like a feeder system. The school and NAC need to work closely as the learning centre of town.
A further point on the Social Compass by Connor (1987) is Resources; this point directs attention to the factors of time, money and people. It takes a very long time to build ownership in a school and in student success. Time is important when attempting to build a sense of community with others. There may be negative effects on students when teachers are only willing to spend a short period of time in a community. 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) correlates to the Social Compass of Connor (1987) in that Resources refers to people and how people interact. The majority of southern teachers do not feel place-bound; they do not see their Arctic community 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 the student.
Harris (1992) explains that there are three areas that need to be reconceptualised and restructured with regards to resources. Firstly, education must become a community responsibility by rethinking the role of the community and the role of the institution. Secondly, a purpose for education must be created that is strongly supported at all levels; thus we must rethink the curriculum goals and accountability. Thirdly, we must look again at what it means to be an educated person of the future.
With regards to the community responsibility of educational resources, the north has many opportunities for improvement. Harris (1992) discusses issues dealing with local financing; richer communities result in quality education while poorer communities result in failure. He does not believe in a shift from the rich to the poor but rather a levelling up of the playing field rather than levelling down. However, where community involvement could really improve is in the education of the members on the District Education Authority (DEA) with regards to educational goals and practice. A DEA can have positive impact on the dropout rate once it understands its use of power. The DEA must put forth more encouragement to elders and local people to come into the school to form stronger partnerships. A discussion of community responsibility must include community involvement issues and not only concerns over local financing.
In 'Knowledge and Beliefs' (Connor, 1987) asks: 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. Most Inuit parents want their children to do well; parents come to interviews and have genuine concern for their children. In my conversations with elders, they report that they are interested especially 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. Not unnoticed is the concern about the adequacy of the educational system; the horrendous events of residential school are not yet forgotten (nor will it ever be) 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.
The Social Compass point, Values and Sentiments (Connor, 1987) questions the value which is placed on education by adults and youth. 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 or a grade twelve diploma comes first. What still needs to be studied are the values and sentiments of those students who dropout.
Another point on the Social Compass is Goals and Felt Needs (Connor, 1987) which deals with the educational aims of community for students. As mentioned earlier, student dropping out by the age of sixteen years was very common before the community high schools were developed. Now that attaining a grade twelve diploma is possible at home, more students are taking on the challenge and attempting to finish school. For example, Taloyoak had its first graduating class four years ago; there were twelve students recommended to sit for Alberta Departmental Exams. Unfortunately, over the next three years since this first graduation only five 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 announced publicly. Some parents report that the school should be teaching more vocational programs and cultural skills like kamatiq (sled) building and kamik (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 twelve and into post-secondary education and training.
The compass point, Norms (Connor, 1987) 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. Attendance is a very strong indicator 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. 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 Noninterference He believes that the Ethic of Noninterference 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 anothers choices or actions. This ethic is most 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 the child to conserve constantly and carefully, to study entirely on their own (p. 16).
Thus, this Ethic of Noninterference evident in Native culture directly influences what is happening in schools.
The school system is modeled after nonnative standards where cajolery, praise, punishment, withholding of privileges or rewards are acceptable teaching methods. Compared to southern, nonnative standards, Inuit students have a great deal of power over their school choices; the Ethic of Noninterference explains why most parents have difficulties forcing their children to attend school once the child has decided they no longer 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 childs right to behave as they please. Of course this Ethic of Noninterference 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 Social Compass framework by Connor (1987). The elected positions in the school system are the members of the DEA. 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. From discussions during meetings, it is obvious that the DEA is aware of the problem attendance and dropout. The crux of the question becomes how to spark more interest and awareness of the dropout issue with those positions that will work toward positive change.
The compass point Power, Leadership and Influence (Connor, 1987) is directly related to the point Positions and Roles. This Power, Leadership and Influence point examines how well the DEA is able to promote education to the community and what it can do to better encourage and teach the community about the importance of school. The DEA often uses communication systems, like local radio and community meetings, to encourage parents to send their children 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. Many school administrations are frustrated with the levels being attained by students and the negative results of poor attendance. For example, in Taloyoak, the track record for leaders and their control over the school is quite good. This school has been lucky to have had the same principal for the last ten years who is well respected by the community and is a long time northerner. The administration is also very encouraging to 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.
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.
One way to increase the awareness of the dropout problem with the community is to develop a community action program with the stakeholders (parents, teachers, students, principals, community leaders, elders, board members, post-secondary institutions, etc). As M. Scott Peck (SPTP, 1988) identifies, true communities have the characteristics of commitment to each other, consensus in the decision making process, transcendence or the ability to rise above difficulties, and the realistic outlook to allow all voices to be heard. Taloyoak can be considered a true community by this criterion as well as by the criteria outlined by Dillman (Gougeon, unpublished) who argues that community characteristics are determined by the discernible patterns of interaction with others. As such a community, Taloyoak should be able to develop a holistic program to help students realize their educational goals.
Fussell (1996) writes that "development is the process whereby people make life easier for each other by collaborating in the formulation of a vision and collective action for resolution of perceived needs" (p. 47). Lowering the dropout rate, thereby raising the educational attainment of the members of the community will create a better community. When the community works together to development in this area they will make life easier for one another in a collective action (Fussell, 1996).
What may be difficult in the initial stages of reducing Inuit dropout is creating an awareness amongst community members that youth dropout is a felt need (Connor, 1997). When discussing dropout among other educators, there is general consensus that the rate of student dropout is horrendous. Unfortunately, those outside of the educational arena may be almost accepting of the dropout numbers and may not regard this concern to be an issue. Connor (1997) explains that in most cases, a communitys felt needs may be relatively few when compared to the number of unfelt needs. This may be the case with the youth dropout issue in the community. When speaking to students about the problems for teens they often list suicide, alcohol, drugs, abuse, teen breakup and other such issues. Although these are important, when students leave school, their problems are compounded and students lose a potential support system to help them deal with their other difficulties. Many of the problems that students list can be helped through school counseling and education. Thus, one important step in dealing with the dropout problem is to create an awareness of the issue within the community and encourage community members to buy into a process of action.
Fussell (1996) goes on to state:
The solving of a problem typically involves a phase where new insight in the form of experience-knowledge is brought to bear on the situation. The new insight will lead to an adjustment in beliefs about the situation, and is a necessary precondition for the identification of the appropriate response for the problem (p. 48).
Although there will always be students who opt out of school, the Inuit youth dropout rate in the North can be reduced to manageable levels. It is hoped that the Inuit dropout problem can be resolved by raising the issue and facilitating a process by which a new insight on the problem of Inuit youth dropout can be made.
Community development needs to occur in Inuit communities. An effective community development worker is essential to provide guidance in the community development process. To be a community development worker requires a wealth of understanding of the given community as well as the various strategies involved in the facilitation of development. Community development requires one to consider three areas: attitude, method or process, and outcome (SPTP, workshop, 1998). The attitude component asks that the community development worker consider both their personal attitudes and the communitys attitudes to the issue. Also, the worker must investigate the values and beliefs of the parties involved. This is especially important when working with such small, tight knit communities found in the North. Everyone is interconnected with everyone else so decisions made affect all. The dropout issue involved many people in the community at as a community development worker it is extremely important to consider all perspectives.
The earlier discussion using the Social Compass by Connor (1997) describes a way to systematically consider all aspects of the community using a twelve point Social Compass. The method or process of development is the second step in the program which asks the worker to consider exactly how this development is going to work towards resolution of the problem. Finally, the worker must consider the desired outcome of the process.
SPTP (1988) uses the model of a wheel to represent community development visually. SPTP (1988) states that the Community Development Wheel must incorporate the element of reflection. As a continuous circle, the community development must place reflection at its hub. Reflection inward and outward is important throughout the turning of the wheel: Goal Setting (setting realistic goals and identifying needs as a starting point), Initiating Action (determining who and what is needed to get the process going), Preserving (the ability to overcome barriers in the process and keep things moving forward) and Reviewing the Journey (celebrating successes and reevaluating the progress in order to set new goals). This Community Development Wheel (SPTP, 1998) is not unlike the community development process proposed by Connor (1997) in his manual, Public Participation: A Manual, How to Prevent and Resolve Public Controversy with the exception of the emphasis which SPTP (1988) has on reflection.
"The underlying principal of community development is: We can do together what we cannot do alone" (State of Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services, 1990, p.1). The community development worker is one who strives to pull people together by encouraging community members to get involved. Thus community development workers must consider all aspects of the community: social, cultural, spiritual, economical, and political (State of Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services, 1990). Native communities especially tend to value cultural and spiritual aspects and the Inuit of Taloyoak are no different. A community development worker who is not of the same culture as the majority of community members must be very aware of all of these aspects when designing a program.
The program design by Connor (1997) gives the opportunity to generate alternative ideas which, when generated by those in the community, may provide a wider opportunity for educational success than what is currently in place. According to Ross (1992) it is a mistake to assume that "Indians were probably just primitive versions of us, a people who needed only to catch up to escape the poverty and despair which afflicts far too many of their communities" (p. xxii). Unlike some other programs which simply push the Euro-Canadian view of education, Native communities need to find alternatives to the current educational process in order to reduce the number of students who give up on learning.
Developing such a program will not be easy because in creating alternatives, one must not be limiting those students who are currently succeeding in the system and wish to go into the greater global job market. The holistic program required must be one that values:
1) global educational programs (current educational diplomas like those recognised by Canadian universities and colleges outside of Nunavut);
2) Inuit culture and language programs (like Inuktitut immersion and land-based programs); and,
3) life skills programs to help Inuit deal with modern day life and the integration of Native and nonnative attitudes (Ross, 1997).
The first step to creating such a program is to raise the awareness of the dropout issue with those in the community and in the Nunavut government. Much of the power to create change rests in the hands of the Nunavut government who determines the amount of financial support to be given into the educational programs in Taloyoak. As Alexander & Swinth (1990) state, one of the main roles of the community development practitioners is to initiate discussion among people in small rural communities to expose the power relations that limit development. Hopefully, once communities agree that youth dropout is a serious issue, they will be able to petition Nunavut government to let them take part in the decisions that directly affect their children. In the past, The Government of Northwest Territories (GNWT) was responsible for all educational decisions. From the statements made subsequently by Nunavut officials, many of these decisions did not consider the values and beliefs of Inuit communities.
This power dependency (Alexander & Swinth, 1990) may have negatively affected the community; nevertheless, the new Nunavut Government needs to be aware that the people in the small communities have the right to participate in decisions made about their education. The community development worker should encourage community people to realize that they can and should get involved. Also, if possible, the Member of Parliament should be involved in the intervention program design so that the communitys views are understood and supported by those in the Nunavut Government.
One way that schools can increase awareness is by getting parents involved in the process. In Site Based Decision-Making (SBDM) models it is important to get parent in the equation. Site Based Management (SBM) is intended to enhance student achievement and parents must be given appropriate training so that the process can work to improve teaching and learning (Alberta Education, 1998). The process can start by giving parents more opportunity to be part of the school community and make information about the school readily accessible. Teachers and parents have traditionally been seen as enemies when it came to school issues; teachers may have to be the first to let down their guard. Schools must work toward more participation and collaboration with parents; their support is needed to reduce dropout.
Developing an action plan is never simple; it demands that all the factors, contradictions, complexities and rough edges around the issue be considered in the plan. Especially when working on such a passionate issue as student dropout, the plan must be very careful to value all perspectives. Rothman (1995) describes three approaches to community intervention according to selected practice variables. For Inuit dropout, Rothman (1995) Mode A - Locality Development is the best suited. The goal of community action according to Mode A (Rothman, 1995) is community capacity and self-help. Students have the opportunity to actually graduate from high school without leaving home, but somehow they are choosing not to. The community needs to look within to solve the problem; Mode A (Rothman, 1995) infers that there is an internal locus of control and this matches my understanding of the problem.
As an aside, it is interesting to note how this locus of control has switched once high schools came to the community. In the past, students were required to travel far distances away from home to residential schools in order to complete their education. Homesickness and eventual dropout was the outcome for many potential Inuit youth in such a program. In this way, dropout was caused by a force external to the community because students were not set up for success. What is unfortunate is that the dropout rate continues to be high even though students are no longer forced to choose between family and school. The locus of control for the problem has become internal which is an element of Mode A (Rothman, 1995).
According to Rothman (1995), Mode A states that the change strategy is to involve a broad cross section of people in determining and solving the problem. Solving the dropout issue will also require a wide range of people: students, parents, nonnative and Native teachers, Board of Education members, elders, principal, District Educational Authority (D.E.A.), community leaders, and others who are affected. Again, the emphasis is that all perspectives on the dropout issue should be considered. Change must come from within the community not from without, so those in the community must be represented in the decision making process. For those parties who cannot physically attend, their participation can be achieved through an understanding advocate.
The community development worker takes on the role of enable-catalyst, or teacher of problem-solving skills who guides all, task-oriented groups to discuss change (Rothman, 1995). The total community is affected by this issue and the beneficiaries of increased educational attainment levels are the citizens of the North (Rothman, 1995). Change techniques in small isolated Inuit families have traditionally been consensus where there is communication among all groups involved; this is also a characteristic of Mode A (Rothman, 1995). Finally, Rothman (1995) states the empowerment is used to help communities build the capability to make informed decisions to gain a sense of self-government or personal mastery by those involved. An appropriate program design will be able to facilitate all of these expectations within local development.
Again, as Harris (1992) asserts education must not only be restructured but it also must be reconceptualised; the aspect of work is being reconceived and not simply modernised. Education must become a community responsibility and it is time to rethink the role of the community and the role of the institution.
Summary: link to Factors Leading to Dropout for Inuit Students
Students need to be supported by those around them when are facing the challenge of school. All members of the community must get involved in the process to reduce Inuit dropout. A community intervention program can work to combat feelings of negativity towards the school by parents and members of the community. Increased awareness of the dropout issue can help clarify misconceptions between the school and the community. Factors of dropout include lack of parental support and lack of parenting skills; an community action plan will help education to become a community responsibility.
Assignment: Analysing Inuit Dropout as an Issue in the North
Article Review: Harris, Phillip. (1992). Restructuring for learning.