Technology for Education
Computers and technology in the Washaho School
The Washaho elementary school in Fort Severn is located in a series of portable classrooms. The school uses technology in the classroom and for school administration. The curriculum requires the pupils to achieve a certain level of computer skills in each grade, particularly by the time they finish Grade 3. The older children use computers regularly for research.
The school does not have enough computers or support for their technology use. For example, in one classroom, there is no way to show a DVD to the students. Other classrooms have no overhead projectors. None of the classrooms have Smart boards. In the computer lab there are 12 computers but only six are currently working. For a class of 12 children, they have to double up and sometimes triple up on the computers. The situation exists because of a lack of funding for technology and support in the school. The computers are about five years old and need better virus protection on them. In at least one classroom the computer is so full of viruses that it is unusable.
Another challenge is that the Internet is very slow in the school, making it difficult and time consuming to download educational programs. The books come in from Sioux Lookout, but the teachers' guides are all online. They are getting them slowly downloaded so they can start teaching new programs.
At the same time, some of the teachers have found innovative technologies to engage the students. For example, one teacher uses a microphone that enhances her voice and the voices of the students using it. The teacher uses it when reading. According to her, the children love using the microphone. When they have their storytime, they read what they have written and everyone can hear them. After they started using it, the teacher noted that their self-confidence and self-esteem seemed to increase! They like to hear themselves read.
Keewaytinook Internet High School (KiHS)
KiHS (http://kihs.knet.ca) is a program that allows students to stay in their home First Nation communities while taking high school courses accredited by the Ontario ministry of education. KiHS was set up by the Keewaytinook Okimakinak Tribal Council. The KiHS students are more focused to remain in the community. They are more connected to their parents, their families and their home life than students who leave Fort Severn to attend high school in Sioux Lookout or Thunder Bay.
KiHS is an innovative provincial high school that uses distance education technologies extensively. The educational platform is a modified version of Moodle on the Internet. All the courses are delivered online and so the students need to have ICT skills to do their work. Through their KiHS education, the students develop a high level of ICT skills.
A big challenge for KiHS in Fort Severn is limited bandwidth. They tried to set up Elluminate sessions that used video to communicate but even though the technology was good it didn’t work because the Internet was too slow. The students lost interest and they got bored with it and it was frustrating. Another challenge is that the computers are not up-to-date. Again, limited funding restricts what the school can do.
Fort Severn has a Wahsa distance education service. Wahsa is a radio high school for adult community members who want to complete their high school diploma. Wahsa is run primarily via radio broadcasts, with different academic subjects broadcast over radio at specific times of the day. There is a Wahsa centre where students can go to meet and listen to the radio broadcasts together, or they can listen at home. Lakehead University has also used radio to broadcast courses to its students in the northern communities. One Fort Severn community members recalled that doing distance education by radio was her first exposure to communication technologies.
A number of Fort Severn community members completed their high school diplomas by going to classes broadcast into the community by radio. The students have the option of calling up their instructors to ask for assistance or to discuss issues. The students gather in the Wahsa centre to share ideas and learn together. Many of those completing high school via Wahsa education would not have been able to complete otherwise, as travelling outside the community for high school was not an option for them, for a variety of reasons.
When Wahsa started it was just basic radio. Students tuned into the radio and listened to their classes. A student with a question would phone the teacher. Later there was an intercom system in the Wahsa centre where students could exchange information with the teacher and other students in other communities. Wahsa now has different communication options for its students. They can participate in radio classes, or through satellite TV, and recently there is the option of communicating with their teachers online, via the Internet. On the Internet, students can also access archives of previous classes. Currently the Wahsa in Fort Severn has 40 students taking correspondence courses and about three radio students. A major reason why more students are taking courses by correspondence is that they are given much more time to complete the courses – clearly better incentives to complete courses by radio are needed!
Professional development by distance education
Many Fort Severn community members have taken courses over the years by distance education, via the web or videoconferencing. Some could have taken the same kind of course by mail correspondence but then they would have been on their own. However by using distance education technologies they could participate in group work and the group work is a benefit because you're getting other people's ideas, not just your own.
Professional development courses taken by distance education by Fort Severn community members include: many different workshops on health care; special education training for teachers working with Fort Severn children with special needs; general investigative techniques for community police officers; and accounting, financial and economic planning.