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EDITORIAL: Aurora College should focus on distance learning, not polytechnic status

I’m a huge advocate of life-long learning.
Comments and Views from the Inuvik Drum and Letters to the Editor

I’m a huge advocate of life-long learning.

In this modern world of high-speed technological innovation, learning new skills and sharpening one’s knowledge isn’t just a luxury — it’s economical survival.

When the pandemic shut down conferences and classes around the globe, I was able to take advantage of the online gathering world to expand my own knowledge in fields ranging from self-care to using spreadsheets.

So I’m always amazed how little distance learning is factored into Aurora College’s program planning.

Skimming through recent advertisements by the college, here in Inuvik you are able to get a start on a carpentry apprenticeship, learn some basic business skills or become a personal support worker. If you’re financially well-off enough to relocate elsewhere in the NWT for the duration of your program, your options expand dramatically — everything from working on boats to aviation management is available for those of us privileged enough to be able to move somewhere else just to go to school.

Looking at Aurora College’s online continuing education classes, there is exactly zero being offered in 2023. This makes absolutely no sense.

Fifty years ago the massive distances between campuses would have to be traversed by students seeking a better career. But that’s not the case anymore.

With the exception of hands-on practicum, there really isn’t anything in academia that can’t be taught over the internet. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been doing this for over two decades.

Rather than, say, requiring students to move to Thebacha to learn aviation management, why not offer the course online? It would be far cheaper to then send an instructor to Inuvik to handle teaching the practicum of actually flying a plane. Similarly, Aurora College’s bridge watch training course could handle the theory part online and provide the hands-on training right here in town, for far cheaper than expecting a contingent of people in the Beaufort Delta to relocate for several months.

Distance learning would be of great help for people who may not have been able to complete high school the first time around. In 2021, Northern News Services reported that the graduation rate among Indigenous students in Yellowknife is 45 per cent and substantially worse throughout the rest of the territory. As more than half the population of the NWT is Indigenous or Inuit, it’s a valid question how exactly is a polytechnic college going to serve the people of the NWT if less than half of the people have the credentials to even apply.

Instead, the college should focus on helping the people of the NWT get their high school diplomas and 30-level courses through the internet. Then, it doesn’t matter if you’re born in Yellowknife or Ulukhaktok, you have the same level of opportunity to better yourself. Many adults finish their high school after the fact, present author included, and are able to build their lives from there.

Aside from its phenomenal research programs, currently Aurora College isn’t serving Northerners outside Yellowknife adequately. Focusing on distance learning could give people the tools they need to reach their full potential.

About the Author: Eric Bowling

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