Post-secondary education will look a lot different in Newfoundland and Labrador this fall, with both major public institutions going mostly online, and while that may work in some places, it won’t work everywhere.
Julia Dicker, who lives in Nain, said the internet speed in her hometown isn’t good enough for her to effectively continue her studies at Memorial University from home.
“I feel like it would interfere with my classes and affect my ability to do the work,” she told SaltWire Network. “I want to be able to do my best.”
Dicker said she did some online courses while in high school and that experience showed her that doing online courses from a town with average internet download speeds of 1.5 megabits per second (mbps) can be difficult. As a comparison, internet speeds in St. John’s can reach up to 400 mbps.
“It’s possible, but I wouldn’t be able to do my best job. I know what it’s like to do online courses in Nain and it’s not great. It would be nice if I could stay here, but the internet problem is the biggest factor.”
Working on changes
When contacted by SaltWire Network, a Memorial University spokesperson said they are aware of the challenge for students living in areas with poor internet connectivity, and are working to address this issue and will update students and the university community when they have information to share.
"What happens if they get booted off or can’t upload or download the required work and fall behind? How do we say to them, ’You’re not failing, the system is failing you?’” — MHA Lela Evans
The College of the North Atlantic is also offering online program delivery for most programs, and a spokesperson said they have been working with students to accommodate them as best they can.
A statement from CNA said some initiatives they have brought in are a toll-free number for computer support and additional software tools to provide extra support to students in rural areas. The college has also provided faculty with resources and support in designing courses for low-tech, low-bandwidth areas and for accommodating offline learning.
“CNA has been working diligently to ensure that students have the best experience possible during their time with us, especially now that our response to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a movement to online program delivery,” the statement read.
Lela Evans, MHA for Torngat Mountains, which Nain is a part of, said she has been concerned about this issue for years and isn’t surprised to hear some students are leaving the region for online studies.
Evans recently posted on social media asking people in the area to post their internet speeds and said the speeds that were posted can be summed up in one word: ridiculous.
“There’s no other word for it,” she said. “We’re always saying education is the key to improving your life, the life of your family, and now, with this online thing, what happens if they get booted off or can’t upload or download the required work and fall behind? How do we say to them, ’You’re not failing, the system is failing you?’”
SaltWire Network contacted the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry, and Innovation, which is responsible for rural internet speeds, and was told government officials are aware of the challenges and are committed to improving broadband capacity throughout the province.
“The importance of broadband has never been so evident than during the past few months, as this infrastructure plays a role in improving educational opportunities and business development, as well as telemedicine for the delivery of health programs and services,” a statement from the department read.
Evan Careen is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering Labrador for SaltWire Network