521.4.1 – DLEs in rural areas

Authors: Ben Chaddock and Myrna Pokiak

We wish to start by bringing our thoughts to the 215 children forced to attend a residential school in Kamloops, BC, never to return home again (CBC News, 2021). This heartbreaking news is another reminder of the dark history of Canada’s maltreatment of First Nations peoples. The Residential School system will forever tarnish the history of our country and other maltreatments of the First Nations people across this great land.

The last Residential School closed in 1996 (Gray, 2021), but the healing will take generations. We would like to acknowledge that for many Dene, Metis, and Inuit peoples, the current school system continues to be a reminder of the pain and grief caused by past governments and religious organizations. During this most difficult moment, we can only wish that the spirits of the children find their way home, and the world takes notice to ensure such things never happen again.

In today’s post, Myrna and I explore the challenges surrounding the application of digital learning technology in rural communities. We decided to explore these challenges in the context of Canadian rural communities, including the Far North.

Many challenges are facing Canadians in our rural communities. With regards to education and the advent of digital technologies, there is a mix of positive and negative impacts. We have accumulated a list of these impacts and summarized the notes below. Suppose our goal is to aim towards a future where as many Canadians as possible have access to the tools and resources they need to achieve their personal, professional, and community goals. In that case, our ability to communicate our needs and carefully allocate our resources will contribute to achieving this equality of access in due time. In the meantime, great awareness needs to be taken by our education leaders to maximize the experience of our current student body.

Positive Impacts – things that are going well:

    • Attending educational programs from home communities
        • In areas where internet capacity is adequate, students can remain in the comfort of their home or community environment and participate in educational programs.
            • This can be helpful for children who still rely heavily on their parents or need support in balancing their academic studies with the rest of their day-to-day activities.
            • For example, remote learning students were able to get more sleep, reduce chatter or bullying, lower the stakes, and focus on the development of the whole student, and discover the power of self-pacing and self-determination (Fleming, 2020).
        • Teaching in Canada’s Far North is very challenging; yet, the number of schools has increased over the past 4 years, from 7 to 20 institutions (ECE, n.d.).
            • The Northern Distance Learning (NDL) program uses a blend of online and in-person high-school classes to help students access a greater variety of courses (ECE, n.d.).
            • At From East Three secondary school in Inuvik, NWT, classes of up to 20 students can participate at a time (ECE, n.d.).
            • Student success rates are promising (about 70% credit acquisition rate), and are made possible by strong relationships between students, teachers, and administrative staff (K12 SOTN, n.d.). The NDL illustrates how distance learning can help fill a need in the community given the right tools and resources.
      • Expand cross-cultural connection
          • Khoo (2019) frames digital learning not as a commodity, but as an aspect of a gift economy, whereby learners can interact and build connections with students and teachers outside their immediate social and cultural groups (34:17).

Negative Impacts – things that need more attention:

    • Limited Infrastructure:
        • Currently, only 45% of rural Canadians have access to high-speed internet (Broadband Fund, 2021).
        • Two financial projects have been announced to help bridge this gap, “the federal government’s $1.75-billion Universal Broad-band Fund and the CRTC’s $750-million Broadband Fund (Brownell, 2021).
        • However, Byron Holland, chief executive of CIRA suggests that $6-$12 billion is needed (Brownell, 2021).
        • This situation is attracting interest from large players in the communications sector, who are using this situation as a consolidation powerplay.
            • For example, “Rogers, one of the country’s largest service providers, recently promised to create a $1-billion fund to increase connectivity in remote, rural and Indigenous communities if its proposed takeover of Shaw Communications is allowed to go through” (Brownell, 2021).
        • Although digital infrastructure and broadband capacities have improved, consumers continue to increase their reliance on digital technologies. If consumer needs and use of the internet remain stable, then hardware infrastructure and broadband capacity may have a chance of catching up; however, until then, there will be a lag since current capacity already lags behind consumer need (White, 2020).
    • High cost of internet
        • The price and quality standard of internet access is also different in northern Canada (Latour, 2018).
        • For example, the internet provider Northwestel is currently able to provide 150 GB/month for $129. However, this marks an improvement with Northwestel offering just 100GB/month for the same price back in 2018. In comparison, that same year, Bell Canada offered Toronto customers unlimited monthly data for $50 a month (Levinson-King, 2019).
        • The Nunavut territory is the only region of Canada without access to fiber-optic internet. To reach the Canadian household average data usage, a Nunavut household would have to spend $7,000 annually, approximately 5-6 times more than the average (Tranter, 2021).
    • Cultural
        • To maximize the use of online learning technologies, greater attention needs to be placed in areas of curriculum design to “respect and build on aboriginal ways of learning. In fact, that might also benefit non-indigenous learners as well” (Bates, 2019).

It is in our nation’s best interest to create opportunities that maximize the creative and intellectual capacity of the peoples of this land. As more and more Canadians are required to use the internet for personal, professional, and educational activities, increasing access to the digital landscape will help us maximize the value each Canadian can share with their community (Canadian Internet Use Survey, 2019). Improved internet infrastructure will aid in this goal. Until then, support for programs that blend online tools with in-person learning will help young Canadians reach their academic goals. With regards to educational design, administrators need to strongly consider the needs and limitations of our rural learners and incorporate alternatives into curriculum structure and assessment resources.  For example, eLearning programs should include access to printed materials. Moreover, digital tools should be used as a supplemental resource, not a replacement for professional and caring teachers in each community. Using a combination of communication and consideration, together, we can innovate and build towards an educational experience that helps all Canadians reach their creative potential (Kuu, 2019).

References:

Bates, T. (2019, March 3) Why are there few online programs in Canada’s Far North? https://bit.ly/3i6ciXk

Broadband Fund (2021, March 19). Canadian Radio and Television Communication: Broadband Fund Closing the Digital Divide Canada. Retrieved May 30, 2021, from https://bit.ly/3i50Hb6

Brownell, C. (2021, April 8). The pandemic has exposed Canada’s internet problem. Maclean’s: Technology. https://bit.ly/34tNpga

Canadian Internet Use Survey (2019, October 29). Statistics Canada. Retrieved May 30th, 2021, from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/191029/dq191029a-eng.htm

Education, Culture, and Employment (n.d.) Northern Distance Learning. Government of Northwest Territories. https://bit.ly/3gc5kO7

Flags on federal buildings to be lowered in memory of Kamloops residential school victims. (2021, May 30). Canadian Broadcast Corporation: Politics. https://bit.ly/3yPf4pS

Fleming, N. (2020, April 24) Why Are Some Kids Thriving During Remote Learning? Edutopia. https://edut.to/3yR4ChG

Gray, B (2021) Digital Detox 5: The Harm Was Always There. https://bit.ly/2RWLu11

Gray, B (2021) Digital Detox 6: Build Back Better. https://bit.ly/3vCRSci

Internet Performance Test (n.d.) CIRA. Retrieved May 30th, 2021, from https://performance.cira.ca/

ISED National Broadband Internet Service Map (2021, March 25). Government of Canada. Retrieved May 30th, 2021, from https://www.ic.gc.ca/app/sitt/bbmap/hm.html?lang=eng

Khoo, Su-Ming. (2019, April 11). Openings: bounded (in) equities: entangled lives. [Video]. YouTube. https://bit.ly/34tGX97

K12 State of the Nation. (n.d.) NWT Northern Distance Learning Program. State of the Nation. https://bit.ly/3c4Q6sQ

Latour, J (2018, August 23). Canada’s north deserves a better internet. CIRA. https://bit.ly/2SHO2Qu

Levinson-King, R. (2019, September 9). Huawei heats up the battle for internet in Canada’s north. BBC News Toronto. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-49415867

Tranter, E. (2021, January 24). Deeply disturbing: Nunavut internet is still slower, more costly than the rest of the country. CTV News. https://bit.ly/3p313jK

White, E. (2020, October 20). After decades of promises for better northern internet, progress has been made — and the promises keep coming. Canadian Broadcast Corporation: Sudbury. https://bit.ly/2RZjgmn

2 thoughts on “521.4.1 – DLEs in rural areas”

  1. Hi Ben and Myrna,

    The news of May 30th was another sad reminder of the poor treatment of our First Nations and thank you for acknowledging it. I cannot imagine the grief they must be experiencing and hope they can find closure in knowing that many Canadian are keeping them in our thoughts and prayers.

    I loved reading your post. Well done! When completing this assignment, what surprised you the most?

    – Stephanie

  2. Hi Stephanie, thank you for your message. When completing the assignment, what surprised me the most is the lack of financial commitment estimated to bring Rural Communities to the rest of Canada. As an Indigenous person, growing up in a rural community in the North, I am not surprised in the lack of support and commitment, billions of dollars is a scary number; however, in my opinion, over time the negative side effects must outweigh that number by far. There is so much to offer by individuals living in Rural communities, voices to be heard.

    Thank you,

    Myrna

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