Fort Resolution school offers students drive-in internet

Most of the Deninu School's students have limited or no access to the internet, but the Fort Resolution, N.W.T. school has a plan for that.

Large majority of students have limited, or no access to internet needed for learning

The Deninu School in Fort Resolution, N.W.T., is now offering drive-in internet. (CBC)

The Deninu School in Fort Resolution, N.W.T., is offering students drive-in internet access to help them stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic because a majority of them have limited or no access otherwise.

"When you have a family working from home and students working from home, it makes it difficult," said school principal Lynette De Maries.

The K-12 school rearranged its routers and plans to keep the drive-in access in place as long as it is needed. 

At the start of COVID-19, teachers reached out to students and their families to calculate how many students had access. Between 50 and 75 per cent of the school's approximately 105 students don't have internet at home, or the access isn't adequate. 

Education, Culture and Employment minister RJ Simpson says he's hearing from education leaders in the territory and across the country that online learning isn't easy for everyone. 

"I think going into this we assumed there'd be a much bigger reliance on online learning," he said. "But we're learning that's not an option for maybe most people in the territory.

"There's parents and families who have access to technology, but there's a lot who don't, and so that's been a real struggle."

In response to the pandemic the North's largest internet provider — Northwestel — offered partial relief on data overages in smaller communities, and unlimited internet in larger centres like Yellowknife.

It increased internet caps by 50 per cent for N.W.T. communities served by satellite. 

Bandwidth was an issue in Fort Resolution before the crisis, said De Maries. 

"Pre-COVID[-19], I could tell when the internet was being used heavily, because it would drop," she said.

Some of the students participate in northern distance learning and many of the specialized courses the students need to get into university are offered online through Inuvik.

"Clearly, it's very important that we have good internet for that purpose for our students to research and so on."

"That's my hope, that the bandwidth gets increased coming into Fort Resolution." 

De Maries said COVID-19 is changing the role of the internet in daily life.

"If COVID[-19] is around with us for a long time, if it takes a while for a vaccine to be delivered, this may be the new face," she said.

"If it gets everyone connected, that's a good thing."

with files from Katie Toth