600 internet-enabled smartphones will be sent to Saskatoon students who do not have access
Partnership between SaskTel, the Saskatoon Teachers' Association and the city's two major school divisions
Hundreds of Saskatoon students without internet access will soon be able to learn online.
That's because a partnership between the Saskatoon Teachers' Association, SaskTel and the city's major school divisions will see 600 Internet-enabled smart phones distributed to families in need starting on Monday.
"I don't think any of us could have imagined life over the last six weeks without the internet, social media platforms and staying connected to each other virtually," said president of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Association, John McGettigan.
"These kids have probably been suffering from instability in that part of their lives."
He explained the collaboration will see the STA and divisions working with SaskTel to purchase phones and data at a discounted rate to ensure children can continue learning at home through the phone's hotspot.
Since schools in Saskatchewan were shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students have been going without, as aspects of the province's remote learning framework requires the internet.
"To me, it's as important as nutrition is right now," McGettigan said. "Keeping these kids fed data is almost as important as keeping them fed. Period."
The cost associated with purchasing the phones is pegged at roughly $60,000. Each phone will have 10 gigabytes of data and the devices will be tailored so kids can only access learning materials related to their schooling.
McGettigan said while the collaboration is starting with 600 phones, it could grow in scope as the divisions get a better idea of how many families are in need and how much data students require, noting the group will try to adjust accordingly.
"We hope that's going to be a lifeline to their teachers," he said.
McGettigan says the group is expecting the need to be in place for at least three months.
François Rivard, superintendent of learning services with the Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, said collaboration is always important within the education sector, but said it's even more critical under the current circumstances.
"There's always been a great relationship there," he said. "In this situation, we're forced to think outside the box a bit more and that has been reality for staff, teachers, for families, for students."
The Teachers' Association has connected with a non-profit called Neducation Management Inc., which will buy the smartphones from a SaskTel dealer.
Last week, Premier Scott Moe told reporters that it's unlikely schools in the province will be reopening anytime soon, but said the government has not had discussions around the reopening. He said while remote learning for students is "not a perfect situation," stakeholders across the province are making the best of it.
"From what I hear, that is going quite well," said Moe. "Not without its challenges, for sure, but it's going reasonably well given the circumstances."
An email sent to some division administrators from Deputy Minister Rob Currie reiterated Moe's remarks, saying "there has been no change to our provincial direction regarding the indefinite suspension of classes."
"We continue to follow the direction of our chief medical health officer while we offer supplemental learning opportunities," Currie said in the statement, noting he will be keeping division leaders in the loop on any potential changes moving forward.
Rivard also noted that the division does want to hear from families who need support.
"That's why we're here in education and we're in here together," he said.