Culturally sustainable education in the Arctic needs to include indigenous and local knowledge. School must enable the children to adapt to the multiple changes taking place, yet learn to embrace their own culture.
Professor Tuija Turunen leads the UArctic Thematic Network on Teacher Education for Social Justice and Diversity in Education. In her keynote speech at the Culturally Sustainable Education session, she listed four factors influencing quality education in the Arctic: culture, respect, ownership and dialogue.
Pigga Keskitalo, Associate Professor at the Sámi University of Applied Sciences, has researched education from both the pupils and the teachers’ point of view. According to her, teacher education is the key to culturally meaningful education for indigenous children and youth.
Unfortunately, all around the Arctic there is a lack of qualified teachers. Many teachers come to the north from the south for just a short period.
According to Professor Diana Hirshberg who directs the Center for Alaska Education Policy Research, in Alaska almost 80 percent of teachers come from, and less than five percent of teachers are indigenous. This creates a vicious cycle where young people do not get the education they need, and teachers cannot connect with the community.
Kirk Anderson, Dean of the Faculty of Education at Memorial University of Newfoundland explained that their university organizes a four-week introduction to indigenous culture for new teachers. It has turned out to be a success.
Distance learning may be one answer to the lack of resources.
Ulla Aikio-Puoskari, Education Secretary of Finland's Sámi Parliament talked about the fight for Sami language education outside of the Sámi homeland, where most of the Sámi children and youngsters live. Now a pilot project will be launched, with distance education from Utsjoki to the rest of Finland. This way of teaching could be exported beyond national borders.
“School is always a linguistic issue. The indigenous knowledge is inseparable from our languages. They must remain rich and alive”, Ulla Aikio-Puoskari said.
Diana Hirshberg pointed out that even if education is place-based and land-based, it also needs to give young people freedom of choice. Indigenous communities need lawyers and land planners like any community.
“We must make sure that we equip our people to live the lives they deserve”, she declared.
The audience joined in a lively discussion. Even officials participated. Senior Arctic Official René Söderman reminded the panellists that education is one of the priorities of Finland’s Arctic Council chairmanship program.