Bad internet makes online learning hard, rural student says

Story by CBC Kids News • 2021-01-25 15:00

Plans underway to improve access for all

Doing school online is tricky when you can’t get online.

Just ask Victoria Rosales.

The Grade 4 student said she was constantly getting kicked out of her virtual classroom when the internet connection at her house on a farm near Edmonton, Alberta, dropped out.

Either that or the screen kept freezing, forcing her to interrupt her teacher from Sturgeon Heights School to ask where they were in the lesson.

It was “really” embarrassing, the nine-year-old told CBC Kids News from her home in Sturgeon County.

Victoria is one of many Canadian kids — often in rural areas — who've struggled to stay on top of their virtual schoolwork during the COVID-19 pandemic because of poor internet access.

Victoria Rosales and her brother work on computers.

One of the rare moments in 2020 when Victoria, right, and her brother Tao, left, were able to connect to their online classes. (Image submitted by Lisa Rosales)

Creative solutions

Victoria’s mom, Lisa, said her kids discovered “very quickly” after starting online schooling that their internet wasn’t going to cut it.

“Sometimes it freezes up and then I can’t hear anyone. It kicks me out, so then I need to log back in, and then at the end I need to ask my teacher: ‘What are we doing right now?’” - Grade 4 student Victoria Rosales

Victoria and her little brother, Tao, often had to use cellphones — and expensive data plans — to connect to their classrooms.

The family also had to drive 20 minutes to the nearest town to access Wi-Fi every time they needed to download or send a document.

Rosales family stand together in a field.

All of the members of the Rosales family have relied on the internet to do work and school from home at certain points during the COVID-19 pandemic. They say it's been a struggle. (Image submitted by Lisa Rosales)

Extra homework

Delays during the virtual school day meant Victoria often had to finish her classwork after hours — and that was on top of the usual homework.

Victoria said it sometimes felt like she was teaching herself.

“It’s a struggle because I am in Grade 4 and I’m only nine and I don’t know everything,” she said. “It’s been frustrating.”

Improvements coming

There is some hope on the horizon.

On Dec. 8, local politicians on the Sturgeon County Council approved a new broadband strategy to improve internet access in the area.

The project, which begins in 2021 with a pilot project in one part of the municipality, involves testing existing internet speeds and paying for improvements.

The plan was based on a 2020 survey of local residents that suggested that more than half were “dissatisfied” or “highly dissatisfied” with the reliability and speed of their internet.

WiFi tower.

Justin Trudeau’s government has promised to connect all Canadians to high-speed internet by 2030. (Image credit: Toby Talbot/The Associated Press)

In November, the Canadian government said it was on track to connect 98 per cent of Canadians to high-speed internet by 2026 and the rest by 2030.

“These are ambitious targets and we're ready to meet them,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at the time.

In the meantime, Victoria and the rest of the students at Sturgeon Heights School returned to in-person learning on Jan. 11.

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