Hundreds of vulnerable Indigenous students on Vancouver Island are set to be provided with laptops and tablets in an effort to improve access to technological resources and support virtual education amid COVID-19.
Over 800 laptops and tablets will be provided by Kw’umut Lelum, an Aboriginal agency, in collaboration with Nanaimo Ladysmith Schools Foundation (NLSF) and the Mastercard Foundation.
The initiative is being called “Staying Connected to Education,” and is aimed at not only providing better online educational opportunities, but also keeping students better connected to the services and social supports they need.
Kw’umut Lelum said that the educational shifts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has created a difficult landscape for many Indigenous communities, suggesting that as many as one in four people are living in poverty.
“With many services, including education, being provided in a virtual environment, it is challenging to ensure some of the most vulnerable have access to technological resources and supports to continue education and connection,” Kw’umut Lelum said in a press release.
“Tablets and laptops, as well as additional supports including free Wi-Fi access, will provide a lifeline to students and their families who are already struggling to cope with a transition to virtual learning.”
Aboriginal Friendship Centres, First Nations governments and three school districts – Nanaimo-Ladysmith, Qualicum, and Cowichan Valley – will collaboratively identify families in need of a laptop or tablet and get them to the students who need them most in each catchment area. Once distributed, the devices will be theirs to keep.
Kw’umut Lelum added that Wi-Fi access will be provided for those who need it through to the end of December 2020.
“Kw’umut Lelum and its nine Coast Salish member nations realize that education is the pathway to the betterment of our children’s lives, and during this pandemic, we have to ensure all Indigenous learners do not fall behind for economic reasons,” said Sqwulutsutun / William Yoachim, CEO of Kw’umut Lelum.
Out of the 800 devices being distributed, approximately 200 will be allocated to the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district, according to the press release.
“I raise my hands in gratitude as we welcome new community partnerships that focus on our most vulnerable students to ensure they do not get left behind,” said Charlene McKay, Board Chair SD68.
During the first wave of the health crisis, the provincial government also loaned out over 23,000 computers to students in an effort to support virtual learning and offer increased access to services.