Nunavut is failing to prepare its high school and mature students for further education or for the working world, says a highly critical report from the federal auditor general.

"We found that Nunavut's education system had a number of gaps and barriers that made it difficult for high school students and adult learners to succeed," says the report.

Nunavut has some of Canada's highest absenteeism and school dropout rates. A recent report found 68 per cent of students who were supposed to be in class actually were.

It's seen as one of the major barriers to employment in the territory and why the Nunavut civil service remains well below its target for Inuit employment.

Tuesday's report points to a poorly co-ordinated and daunting system that has left students of all ages to figure things out on their own.

It says Nunavut's Education Department hasn't outlined ways "to help students graduate and transition from high school to post-secondary education and employment."

"The department needs to collaborate more," said lead auditor Jim McKenzie. "They didn't have a strategy in place."

Only two of seven high schools looked at had teachers assigned to help students plan their education. Barely half the students had graduated after four years.

Student assessment was also weak.

"The department did not have the assurance that students were being assessed consistently across schools or that classroom marks were reliable," says the report.

It notes that classroom grades were generally 20 percentage points higher than what students achieved on standardized tests.

Even attendance records were unreliable. "We found several problems with the completeness and accuracy of attendance data provided to us by the department."

Teachers and principals identified low attendance as one of the root causes of academic difficulties.

The report also says the department's curriculum division has been so understaffed that many courses haven't been updated in a decade or don't reflect the Nunavut context.

The report points out the territory's students need all the help they can get.

"Several factors can make completing high school a challenge for Nunavummiut," it says. "Overcrowded housing, food insecurity and the legacy of residential schools can affect students' academic performance."

McKenzie said different departments need to work together.

"A lot of these issues go beyond the Department of Education," he said. "A lot of factors are outside their control."

The audit found that adult learners couldn't get access to basic education in 17 of Nunavut's 25 communities. Programs designed for adults to complete high school didn't offer enough courses for them to graduate.

Courses required to enter programs at Nunavut Arctic College were not widely available or only at significant cost. Funding was available to those seeking training for semi-skilled jobs, but not for general education.

"Learners were eligible for financial aid if they were taking work-related skills upgrading programs … but not if they were taking the (Adult Basic Education) program."

Policies to let adults attend high school in their communities were inconsistent and poorly funded. Only two of the seven high schools reviewed dedicated space and staff for mature students and gave them flexible deadlines and attendance requirements.

The report makes 12 recommendations, including helping young students plan for the future to ensuring financial barriers don't block adults from education. All have been accepted by the territorial government.