Past events

Teaching and Learning for a Sustainable North: examining structural, geographical, linguistic and cultural challenges

18.5.2021 0:00–0:00

Session at the UArctic Congress, on Tuesday, 18 May at 12.30 – 13.30 GMT (Iceland time zone).

Session time: Tuesday, 18 May at 12.30 – 13.30 GMT (Iceland time zone)

Session abstract:

Many northern communities are distinctive in their remoteness and rurality and northern urban areas also face particular issues related to their geographical isolation. There are common challenges that face school systems including preparing, recruiting, supporting and retaining teachers who are effective in the rich ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity of classrooms in these communities. High teacher turnover is a perennial problem, especially in rural areas and is strongly correlated with lower student achievement.

Moreover, northern schools enjoy a wealth of languages; this diversity of languages reflects the multicultural identities found among communities within northern nations. However, challenges exist around educating in and maintaining heritage languages as well as in providing second language instruction to new Arctic residents. The use of Indigenous languages in circumpolar schools serving minority and Indigenous students varies considerably. Formal policies, challenges around finding qualified educators who speak and write heritage languages, and a lack of educational materials in those languages are some of the obstacles to promoting these languages in schools. 

Often these issues are examined in isolation. In this roundtable session, we will feature papers that address a range of educational issues facing communities and their educators in the north. Bringing this diversity of foci together in a diverse panel allow for dialogue that explores joined up responses to many of these challenges and to examine collaboratively responses that have already been implemented in some geographical regions. 

For example, in many countries, there are too few educators originating from northern regions. Schools face difficulties in finding teachers with proficiency in local languages, familiarity with pedagogies rooted in local and Indigenous cultures and practices, and experience in living in rural and remote places. Transformative teacher education is built through an understanding of education within the context of social, historic and power relations. Teachers’ agentic voices are important in raising awareness around issues of heritage and identity with students, classrooms and communities.

Empowering teachers to take agency in their professional learning, and developing their pedagogical promising practices is a key to creating inclusive learning environments. There are many ways to think about equity, access and success in education in the north. One of these is to consider how we provide opportunities to people who face challenges due to geography and population density. How do we rethink school-community relations? How do we more intentionally engage local and Indigenous community members in educational processes? How do we support multiple sustainable pathways through education for all students regardless of the size and remoteness of their community? 

Many innovative practices are being implemented across northern regions, such as cutting-edge digital pedagogies to support student learning and experiences, place-based and Indigenous methodologies, and intensive short-term residential experiences. In this roundtable, we share research that addresses the broad array of innovative responses being implemented in northern schools and communities, across the educational spectrum. These include structural, pedagogical, curricular, political, economic, social and geographical challenges and innovations, as well as discussions around how we facilitate stakeholder engagement in developing and enacting these solutions including the challenges and innovations in addressing heritage language teaching and second language instruction in schools in Northern contexts and other issues around language, identity, support for newcomers and socio-linguistic pedagogies.  


  • Mhairi Beaton, Leeds Beckett University
  • Lars Demant-Poort, Ilisimatusarfik/University of Greenland
  • Edda Óskarsdóttir, University of Iceland
  • Kalpana Vijayavarathan, the University of the Faroe Islands
  • Tuija Turunen, University of Lapland
  • Gregor Maxwell, UiT The Arctic University of Norway
  • Anne Burke, Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • Olga Kagan, Northern Arctic Federal University
  • Douglas Cost, University of Alaska Anchorage
  • The session is chaired by Diane Hirshberg, University of Alaska Anchorage

Link to the session webpage.