Remote Manitoba schools fighting COVID-19, connectivity to finish school year

With most schools in Canada closed by the COVID-19 pandemic, students finishing the year have to take their work online.

But for students in remote communities, the right equipment and a reliable internet connection can be a struggle.

The Frontier School Division in Manitoba covers 75 per cent of the province.

Reg Klassen is the chief superintendent for the Frontier School Division where many of its schools are remote, some only accessible by air, boat or rail.

He says it’s this remoteness that’s behind, or causes, many challenges, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic has sent all the students home.

“Our rough guesstimates would be that we have about 50 per cent of our students who probably have access to quality technology, I should say differently, quality connectivity,” he says. “And of those 50 per cent I would say less than half probably have a device at their disposal that they can use very frequently.”

He adds the school division was proactive in trying to stock up and distribute devices. They purchased 1,100 laptops and sent them out their schools throughout their five area offices.

A good laptop however, is useless without a good internet connection, which many remote communities lack.

“Working at trying to increase the standard five megabytes to more capacities so that we can do more than just an email. In some of our schools in the morning, we have blocked off the internet use for everybody except the secretary to make sure all of the attendants gets entered in, those are the kinds of things we’ve done,” says Klassen when asked what the division is doing to combat connectivity issues.

Tobi Wilson teaches at Jack River School in Norway House, which is one of many part of the Frontier School Division.

Wilson says moving classes online was a new experience for her and her students.

“We had an interview I guess or questionnaire right when all this happened about preparing for who had access to internet, who had had access to a computer, or a tablet or a phone or anything like that. And I think I only had about I’d say 20 percent of my kids, I have 21 kids so it wasn’t much at all for access so everything I do is all worksheet typed based on our curriculum,” says Wilson.

Wilson has to make sure her students are learning the material by whatever means necessary until the pandemic is halted.

“So I make sure I send home like pencils, erasers, crayons, and scissors, anything they need to complete that package.”

Manitoba schools will remain closed for the current academic year with the earliest opening being in the fall.

Reporter / Winnipeg

Darrell is a proud member of Peguis First Nation in Manitoba. He is a graduate of the television program from Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton. He is returning to APTN after having completed an internship with us in 2018 and a brief stop as a reporter in B.C. in 2019.