Half of the households of Mildred Hall School students in Yellowknife lack internet access, said Yellowknife Education District No.1 (Yk1) trustee John Stephenson in a meeting on Tuesday.
“It did not occur to me that it would be that high of a ratio. (Internet access is something) that anyone in this room takes for granted in our homes, in our children’s lives, and in our ability to communicate with one another,” he said. “The pandemic and lockdowns have raised the need for access to the internet for education (and) health.”
Yk1 superintendent Ed Lippert said Mildred Hall School’s internet access issue is related to the family and household situation of students, and is “difficult to talk about because of the nature of it.”
“What can we do? We could look at opening up our schools in the off-hours to enable internet access,” he said.
The school district has introduced measures to deal with this problem in the past, such as allowing students and families to access the internet near school buildings.
“Sir John Franklin has set up WiFi access so people can drive up to school and access the WiFi. In the summer, people can access internet outside the Mildred Hall building. In the winter, that’s not accessible because it’s too cold.”
Yk1 will receive funding from the $2.4 million pot in Covid-related assistance that ECE earmarked in October for education districts to help them purchase Chromebook laptops and turbo sticks. Lippert said it’s not yet known how much Yk1 will receive but it plans to buy its own hardware with the funds so it can get the best value.
Once Yk1 purchases the electronics, Lippert said the district would try to provide as many turbo sticks for families as it can.
The federal government on Monday committed $1.75 billion towards expanding high-speed internet access across Canada, including $600 million aimed at improving connectivity in remote and Northern areas through low-earth-orbit satellite capacity. However, it’s not yet known when the funding might support internet access projects in the NWT.
The principal of Mildred Hall School and a spokesperson for the Department of Education weren’t immediately available for comment.