Without internet, rural adult students feeling shut out
Instructors at adult training centre in Renfrew County relying on mail, phone calls
For rural students of an adult training program in eastern Ontario, the COVID-19 shutdown, combined with the lack of affordable and reliable internet, is proving especially challenging.
Steve Hildebrand, 55, would regularly attend free classes at the Training and Learning Centre of Renfrew County in Barry's Bay as he worked toward his high school equivalency. Then came the pandemic.
Hildebrand has no internet connection at his rural home in Palmer Rapids, Ont., where his only option would be an expensive and spotty satellite feed.
"When COVID hit it was very frustrating," Hildebrand said. "I haven't been able to do anything there in Barry's Bay. It's all been over the phone."
While Hildebrand managed to pass his final exam, he's had to put his next course on hold.
"[If I had] internet at home I would have the option of doing the digital media course, but instead I'm going to have to wait for the centre to reopen," he said.
Instructors mailing assignment, workbooks
The lack of reliable and affordable internet is also a challenge for the centre's instructors, who have taken to mailing workbooks to students, then following up with tutoring sessions over the phone.
Instructor Jane Wouda has done that, and has on occasion met up with students — while respecting physical distancing — in the parking lot of the centre's Eganville, Ont., classroom, where a Wi-Fi signal is available.
It feels like a lot of the world is managing to get going, but a lot of our learners feel stuck.- Jane Wouda, instructor
But Wouda said even that doesn't do it for some students.
"They might not have a car or they might not have a laptop. They don't have a lot of money or a job, which is why they contacted us in the first place," Wouda said. "It feels like a lot of the world is managing to get going, but a lot of our learners feel stuck."
Wouda herself is at the mercy of limited and spotty bandwidth at her home in Admaston/Bromley.
"I can't just do everything I want to do on the internet," she said. "And heaven forbid if my computer wants to do an update."
Some dropping out
Overall, the combination of the shutdown and the issue of internet connectivity means some students who need the program to get their lives on track have left, said Training and Learning Centre of Renfrew County program director Sue Rupert.
"Getting people to come to us in the first place is hard enough," Rupert said. "It becomes difficult to keep them engaged when you can't do a Zoom meeting and let them see your face."
Rupert said unless the internet suddenly becomes reliable and affordable in rural Renfrew, the centre's instructors will continue to rely on mailings and phone calls to help students on their path to new opportunities.