Sudbury

Moving education online a work in progress for northern Ontario school boards

Ontario's school system has officially moved online, but some students in the north will need to find another way to connect with their education.

Boards are delivering paper assignments by school bus, handing out tablets and computers

Ontario has moved its education system online, but hundreds of kids in the north don't have the internet connection they need or a device to do their school work on. (CBC)

Thousands of students from kindergarten to Grade 12 have started learning online.

But northern Ontario school boards are still figuring out how to connect with those who don't have a computer or the Internet.

The District School Board Ontario North East— which runs English public schools in Hearst, Temagami, Timmins and points in between— figures that about 200 students have no internet at all and dozens of others don't have enough bandwidth to stream videos.

Education director Lesleigh Dye says some of those families will get paper assignments delivered this week by school bus. 

"For the teachers that know the students who need the hard copy, that's being sent to the secretary and then the secretary is printing that on Monday, then we're arranging for the courier or the bus company, we're figuring out the drop-offs and all of that is going to take a day or two or three to get up and running," she says.

The board's survey also determined that several dozen families don't have a computer or other device kids could use to learn from home. Dye says they plan on distributing board-owned computers, possibly through some kind of drive-thru service.

"I would not say it's easy, but we are absolutely committed to doing it," says Dye. 

"One of our priorities is innovation, which we define as doing something new and different. And every day we are doing something new and every day we are doing something different."

The Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board had about 90 per cent of its families fill out an online survey.

"The irony isn't lost on us," says education director Rose Burton Spohn, adding that staff are also following up by phone with students who don't have the Internet at home. 

The survey results show that's about 74 students, plus another 528 who don't have a computer or other device.

School buses are being used in some parts of northern Ontario to deliver paper assignments to students without internet access. (Erik White/CBC )

Burton Spohn says they are distributing board-owned tablets to those students and trying to get the others online.

She says they've looked at buying Internet hubs or asking students to use the Wi-Fi in school parking lots, but for now are finding ways to deliver paper assignments to those households. 

"We knew that going into this that it would not be a one-size-fits-all situation, but we want to provide whatever we can," says Burton Spohn.

"It's not going to look the same way, there's no doubt about about it. But all learning is important. And if students are able to be engaged during this time, I think that is very much worth the effort."

The Conseil Scolaire Public du Grand Nord de l'Ontario says it has identified only 15 students in the Sudbury and Algoma districts that don't have internet connections and are providing computers to families that don't have one.

The Conseil Scolaire Catholique du Nouvel-Ontario says that 98 per cent of its families are connected to its parent portal, but is still determining how many have the internet and computers at home. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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