As It Happens

This Montreal teacher is collecting donated computers for his students who can't afford them

Teaching high school over the internet is no easy feat, but it’s especially challenging when your students don’t have computers at home. That’s the reality for Ismaël Seck, a special needs teacher at Lucien-Pagé, a high school that serves mostly low-income neighbourhoods of Montreal.

Ismaël Seck says it's unfair that so many students lack the supplies required for distance learning

Ismaël Seck has been travelling around Montreal on his bike picking up donated distance learning equipment for disadvantaged students. (Submitted by Ismaël Seck)


Teaching high school over the internet is no easy feat, but it's especially challenging when your students don't have computers at home. 

That's the reality for Ismaël Seck, a special needs teacher at Lucien-Pagé, a high school that serves students from predominantly low-income Montreal neighbourhoods. 

"The fact that not everyone has access to technology and the internet, it is not an abstract concept," Seck told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"It's really the hard reality that we see, especially in the families of our students."

That's why he's working with his fellow teachers and volunteers around the city to collect donations of computers, tablets, monitors and other equipment, and get them into the hands of the kids who need them.

"I'm very, very surprised by the generosity of the people," he said.

"At first, when I published on Facebook and Twitter, I was like, if I can get 10 computers, it would be amazing. And just yesterday, I received maybe triple that in just one day."

For the first couple days, Seck was doing the work alone. He doesn't have a driver's license, so that meant riding his bike to far ends of the city to pick up donated items and cart them back to the school where parents could retrieve them.

That proved untenable, he said, because of his limited range, speed and carrying capacity. So he's since organized a group of 10 volunteers to help do the pick-ups. 

"I really want us to be effective to be able to help our students as fast as we can," he said. 

While people have really stepped up to help, Seck says it's still not enough.

High schools in Montreal are expected to remain closed until at least September, and a significant chunk of his students still don't have the tools they need to do distance learning. 

We have the responsibility and the legal obligation to provide anything that the students need. And we could not do that- Ismaël Seck, high school teacher 

"I'm not the only one in this case," he said.

"It's really what got me started to really promote this initiative as best as I could, because when you're told that you need to choose between your students on who was getting a computer, it is just so ridiculous."

He says many of his students are struggling to follow classes on their phones. And parents can't pick up the slack with homeschooling, because many of them are essential workers. 

"It made me so angry because technically we have the responsibility and the legal obligation to provide anything that the students need," he said. "And we could not do that."

Montreal has 23,064 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 2,411 deaths as of Thursday, according to data tracked by CBC News. The pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on the city's poorest neighbourhoods. 

Earlier this month, the Quebec government announced it would provide students with 15,000 new tablets for remote learning.

Seck says none of those tablets have made their way into his students' hands. For that, he blames the gaps left behind by Bill 40 — a controversial Quebec law passed in February to replace school boards with service centres.

That left Lucien-Pagé without any elected school board commissioners just as the pandemic hit, Seck said. 

"I feel a lot of school boards are maybe in this weird position where they don't necessarily have all the right people to be able to really co-ordinate maybe the best effort they could," he said.

"It's just terrible because we used to have people that were elected to go all around the communities and see what is happening. Now they're gone and there's no one to replace them."

Asked for comment, a spokesman for the Quebec ministry of education denied Bill 40 has any connection to the supply shortages.

He did not answer questions about how the 15,000 tablets are being distributed, but pointed to a document that said anyone in need of distance learning equipment can request it from the government. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview produced by John McGill. 

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