Many First Nations communities see inequality in access to online learning

Published On September 17, 2020 | By Jaeybee Martinito | News

A sign at Fort Severn Airport in English (Fort Severn) and Cree (ᐗᔕᐦᐅᐠ [Waśahohk]). (Sauga FTTH/Wikimedia Commons)

Jaeybee Martinito

Classes have started this week for elementary and high schools across the province. Some parents have chosen to send their children in class while following social distancing, and others will be doing remote learning.

But many people in the more vulnerable First Nations communities in Ontario are stuck on the other side of the digital divide, leaving them no choice.

“Learning in class is the only way for students up north. Their home life is so all over the place, that online learning is just not feasible,” Luidette Andres said, a teacher in Fort Severn, Ontario.

Andres’ grade 3 and 4 students live in the same household with 2-3 families and have no access to wifi at home. Due the instability of water pre-COVID times, students were already in distraught and emotional.

“Not seeing their teachers was another emotional toll for them,” Andres said.

The non-profit First Nations Technology Council estimates 75 per cent of communities lack high speed internet in addition to what students were already facing.

Andres and her colleagues set out authentic programs such as incorporating cultural teachings like the Seven Grandfather Teachings to help children manage.

“Having the tangible material in their hands was more reliable than online because not everyone had access and the connection is pretty unpredictable,” Andres said.

One in three of Canadian households do not have a computer, according to a 2018 study reported by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications.

Others caught in the digital divide, such as lower-income communities in the GTA can get access to programs called Internet Connectivity Kits and Wifi Hotspots are readily available at Toronto Public Libraries. Students or anybody who is in need of tech tools can borrow refurbished laptops for four months.

“I count my blessings every day for just being able to do some work and connect with a few individuals,” Aly Velji said, a Manager of Adult Literacy Programs.

Velji oversees both of the programs who are funded by the city’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. They work with agencies who help them identify those who are most in need of kits and hotspots.

Toronto Public Library loan out about 1,000 hotspots and are looking to set out another hundred of kits in the coming months.

“It’s a small initiative, but we’re happy that we could play a part in that,” Velji said.

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