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Report eyes remote learning through Indigenous lens

As of last year, 17% of households on First Nations had access to broadband internet: Auditor General
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A new report, including experiences of Indigenous youth who are disproportionately impacted by existing distant learning challenges, has been released.

The 56-page report, which is titled Uncharted Waters: Toward A World-Class Canadian E-Learning Paradigm, was published by the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), which is a not-for-profit national centre of expertise for Canada’s digital economy.

The latest report is the third one the ICTC has released on distance learning in the country since early 2020. It focuses on the country’s emergency distance learning landscape.

It also provides a recommended framework the educational system should adopt for future remote learning.

“These struggles underline also an opportunity for educational enhancement and sort of the re-conceptualization of learning with technology the centre of student learning,” said Nathan Snider, ICTC’s manager of research and stakeholder engagement and one of the co-authors of the report.

Snider, who was tasked with writing the Indigenous components of the report, added it does not only include current and future looks at remote learning.

“This study includes a brief history of distance learning in Canada, providing a snapshot of its evolution across certain provinces and explores Canadian perspectives on distance learning, emergency distance learning and e-learning infrastructure,” he said.

While compiling the report, a total of 20 education subject matter experts were interviewed.

Data was also collected from a survey that included 1,063 respondents (students and parents).

The survey did not ask if respondents self-identified as Indigenous.

In terms of Indigenous youth experiences with e-learning, the report said according to the Auditor General of Ontario, as of last year, only 17 per cent of households on First Nations had access to broadband internet connectivity.

This figure is significantly less than the 84 per cent of households nationally who have sufficient broadband coverage according to the CRTC.

An Ontario-based Indigenous educator said the following in the report:

“Attendance for Indigenous students is a challenge in ideal circumstances, let alone in the midst of a pandemic. Without the support of family and friends and the required resources (like connectivity), things will likely get worse.”

This isn’t the first time ICTC has included information specifically about Indigenous people in its reports.

“ICTC has a history of publishing research that focuses on the digital divide that disproportionately impacts quality of life for Indigenous peoples in Canada,” Snider said. “This report obviously touches on that. In fact, it does do a bit of a deeper dive into other issues that don’t necessarily impact other community groups in Canada.”

While the survey conducted for this report did not ask respondents whether they were Indigenous, ICTC reps did specifically include Indigenous individuals among those 20 subject experts they interviewed.

“So, it goes a step beyond just talking about curriculum. It goes a step beyond talking about the digital divide that you and I might understand and really focuses on issues that impact cultural identity, issues that impact student relationships with the education ecosystem,” Snider said of the report.

Besides sections on Indigenous people, the report also included segments on Black people, as well as those with disabilities.

Maryna Ivus, ICTC’s manager of labour market research, felt it was necessary to provide an Indigenous lens to this latest report.

“I think COVID actually highlighted the importance of inclusion and equity because usually the previous reports in Canada there was not much focus on Indigenous population,” said Ivus, who was also a co-author. “In this report we really wanted to bring it up and show the difference.”

Trevor Quan, ICTC’s senior research and policy analyst, is aware of the disproportionate impacts in remote education among certain groups, including Indigenous students.

“I suppose it is a challenge to ensure that you can have customized or unique solutions to the individual circumstances and to the community,” he said. “I think education system and policy makers are always struggling how to find that unique balance and make sure you can hit that same sort of standards while also tailoring your solutions to the local needs.”

Report recommendations include that educators have appropriate digital skills, school administrators select effective educational technology and having learners collaborating with one another to engage in meaningful discussion.

And in terms of fostering inclusion and equity for online education, the report states there needs to be an understanding and acknowledgment of students having varying cultures, ability levels and socioeconomic backgrounds.

For example, Indigenous students might have unique cultural needs that they require and accommodations should be met to help them succeed in online learning.

Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com