“They don’t see how important this is to us:” NORTEP-NORPAC looms on the verge of closure

By Bryan Eneas
September 28, 2016 - 11:46am

After signing a five year agreement with the provincial government in 2015, the funding for NORTEP-NORPAC is no longer available.

For the last 40 years, the Northern Teacher Education Program (NORTEP) has trained educators in North Saskatchewan including La Loche, Black Lake, Fond du Lac, and many more. In 1989 the Northern Professional Access College (NORPAC) was founded to bring arts and science programs to those same people. Now, both programs are essentially no more.

According to student council vice president Rielle Desjarlais, NORTEP-NORPAC is an important resource for northerners who may not be able to travel to Saskatoon or Regina.

“They just kinda laughed at us and didn’t take our questions seriously,” Desjarlais said when she had an opportunity to speak with the minister for Advanced Education for one hour along with the board of directors and a few students.

“By taking away our education in northern Saskatchewan, that is not keeping Saskatchewan strong… They don’t see how important this is to us. They can’t just shut our school down. It’s been 40 years of successful outcomes, why can’t it be 40 more?”

According to Desjarlais, 94 per cent of NORTEP-NORPAC grads in the last five years have gone on to find jobs.

“A lot of the graduates from NORTEP-NORPAC are born in the north, raised in the north, educated in the north and contribute and develop the north. Right now the students are questioning if they will have the opportunity to graduate,” Desjarlais said.

NORTEP-NORPAC consolidated

According to Tammy Bloor Cavers, the assistant deputy minister of Advanced Education, NORTEP-NORPAC is part of a funding agreement with the government of Saskatchewan which ends in July 2017.

“The intent is to redirect the funding to a post-secondary institution… a way of consolidating programs in La Ronge,” Bloor Cavers said. “There’s a certain amount of overlap in activity that’s happening and we’re looking for gaining some efficiencies on how programming is delivered.”

Bloor Cavers cited the universities of Saskatoon and Regina and Northlands College as other educational institutions within La Ronge.

“We are committed to providing opportunities for northern learners,” Bloor Cavers said. “Most recently, government invested in a Dene teacher education program in La Loche, along with a number of other technical training programs that are offered throughout the north that are, quite honestly, too numerous to list them off.”

Bloor Cavers said because NORTEP-NORPAC is a not-for-profit organization, the board of governors decides the fate of the school.

NORTEP shouldn't be sacrificed

April Chiefcalf, former program co-ordinator and faculty member of NORTEP-NORPAC, called the consolidation of the program surprising.

“I’m a little surprised we’re being asked to consolidate when, in my perspective, we have been operating very successfully as an autonomous program,” Chiefcalf said.

Chiefcalf said she feels the deputy minister’s assessment of programs in La Ronge is inaccurate. She said there are a number of unique programs offered through NORTEP-NORPAC, which are available to students all around the north. 

She said while Northlands College offers some arts and science programs through distance education, those programs are not always available. Chiefcalf believed since NORTEP-NORPAC was created first and duplicate programs exist between it and other colleges, NORTEP shouldn’t be the program which ends up being cut.  

Chiefcalf still doesn’t know if she will have a job next year.

“There hasn’t been a confirmation if there will be an intake in new students next year,” Chiefcalf said. “We’re just in this crazy state of limbo not sure what next year is going to look like.”

“I don’t know how it’s going to play out”

“As of July 31 the NORTEP program as we know it will not exist,” Vice President of NORTEP-NORPAC Jennifer Malmsten said.

According to Malmsten students who are in their first year of studies can still finish their programs.

“I don’t know how it’s going to play out,” she said. “If they’re in year one they will be able to finish up to year four, the government has committed to doing that.”

For Malmsten, this issue boils down to money.

“The government is looking at fiscal responsibility and saving money wherever it can save money.”

 

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On twitter: @BryanEneas

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