Nunavut is a vast territory and its communities are extremely isolated. To give an idea of what this looks like: there are no roads in or out of the territory and there are no roads connecting any of the twenty-five communities within it, not even any ice roads! The only way in or out, for people or goods, is by air (or annual sealift through ports in other provinces).
Nunavut has a strong and vibrant culture and history. For most residents, the Inuit language is their first language. Still, in order to graduate high school, students must successfully complete (among other courses) grade 12 English following the Alberta curriculum. High school graduation rates and high drop outs have been a significant challenge for the school system in Nunavut.
A review of student records across the territory in 2012 revealed nearly 200 students who needed only their grade 12 English course to fulfill their high school graduation requirements. However, many of these people (now adults) were engaged in busy lives working full time, caring for family members and/or working in the traditional economy. So, a challenge presented itself: how to reach people so close to graduation but beyond the reach of the traditional school system?
Through a collaboration between the Nunavut Department of Education and Nunavut Arctic College, the Pathway to Adult Secondary School (PASS) was created. The program aims to support adult learners as they strive to complete the requirements for their secondary school diploma. The only way to serve such a diverse and geographically isolated group was through a model incorporating online learning.
In the PASS program, students who meet entry requirements are provided with a laptop, a modem to access the internet and all course materials they need. On top of this, students are supported by a dedicated online instructor, a centrally located program coordinator and a locally placed facilitator.
At the time of the program’s creation, and still today, there is only one internet service provider that services all Nunavut communities. Qiniq (through SSi Micro1) provides satellite-based internet service to every Nunavut community and the PASS program wouldn’t exist without that technology and the support of Qiniq. Each student has their own Qiniq modem that they can take with them anywhere in their community (or to any Nunavut community for that matter) so that they can continue their studies in the places and spaces that meet their needs.
Most of the courses offered through the PASS program are done so through a partnership with Alberta Distance Learning (ADLC). The program accesses ADLC’s course catalogue, online learning infrastructure, and strong support network. The ADLC courses delivered through the program are instructed by qualified Nunavut teachers and this helps keep the delivery culturally and Nunavut relevant and responsive.
The PASS program follows an adult learning model. Students who are enrolled in the program are at least 19 years of age and have been out of a traditional school setting for at least a year. Depending on the number of courses needed to graduate students may be in the program for a semester or for up to 3.5 years. When they successfully complete the program, students meet grade 12 graduation requirements and receive a Nunavut Secondary School Diploma.
The PASS program takes in an average of 78 students per semester. The traditional, western-based school system is still relatively new to Nunavut and online learning even more so. Still, every year since its inception, the PASS program has seen an increase in student retention as well as an increase in successful course completions.
In addition to PASS, Nunavut Arctic College coordinates an online learning program for municipal workers. These two programs are the only coordinated online learning programs in Nunavut. For both, success is owed to several factors, among them: A very creative collaboration among many partners, and most of all the hard work, perseverance and drive to the success of their students.
1 SSI Micro Ltd. is a Canadian wireless broadband internet service provider primarily serving remote areas that lack terrestrial service options (Wikipedia).