Coast Mountain College stock photo. (Keili Bartlett / The Northern View)

Northern Universities collaborate with Mastercard to enhance Indigenous student experience

For separate institutions will receive $95,000 each

Coast Mountain College is getting a boost to funding for Indigenous student support in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of a partnership with the Mastercard Foundation, Four post-secondary institutions in northern British Columbia announced May 7 they would be investing in technological solutions to improve Indigenous students’ access to remote education.

Coast Mountain College (CMTN), the College of New Caledonia, Northern Lights College, and the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) will each receive $95,000, which will also go towards funding for student counselling support, employment opportunities for students, and a connectivity project aimed at ensuring students’ access to online programming.

READ MORE: Coast Mountain College sets up student emergency fund

CMTN’s CEO Justin Kohlman said the funding would be put to good use for students across their wide range of institutions in the north.

“At Coast Mountain College a large part of our student population is Indigenous and many of those students live in rural and remote communities,” he said. “We appreciate the generous support from the Mastercard Foundation to support our students during this time of COVID-19 and allow learners from across our region to continue on their transformative educational pathways.”

Speaking to the Kitimat Northern Sentinel, Kohlman said while the college is looking forward to their fall opening, in order to ensure student safety they will be offering most of their courses via distributed learning. For students who require face-to-face learning, such as in the trades and health services, CMTN is putting safeguards in place to ensure adherance to health protocols put in place during the pandemic.

Kohlman said some of the funds will go toward both computers and technical support for students. “We have ordered laptops that students can access through our library, we are hiring an IT person to be available to answer student questions and we are looking at a couple student positions to provide employment to the students and to have them helping other students,” he said. “The supports will be for students across our entire geographic region. I am aware that some of the requests for laptops came from students in the Smithers area, for instance.”

Kohlman added it’s important to make sure that students are still able to be connected to their studies during the pandemic. “In this online world, our goal is to ensure our students are supported well wherever they live.”

The program is focused on enabling Indigenous communities to respond to the short-term impacts of this pandemic while also strengthening their resilience in the long-run.

“This crisis is teaching us how interdependent we are as well as how powerful collective action can be,” said Mastercard Foundation president Reeta Roy. “As individuals, each of us can do our part to slow down the virus.”

Each institution is developing its own unique employment opportunities focused on investigating how to address the challenge of isolation, lack of connectivity, and the resultant barriers and challenges for students. In addition, each of the institutions will be tasking employees with looking at what best practices and learning models have worked well in this context.

Another component of the partnership is the possibility of deploying new connectivity technology in remote communities to enhance Indigenous students’ access to distance learning. Since schools in the province shut down in March, many have resorted to online learning models for continuing their 2019-2020 school year and for incorporation into their 2020-2021 year.

“Installing this technology will have the added benefit of improving connectivity for the entire community,” the release notes.

Other figureheads from the three other institutions participating in the partnership echoed Kohlman’s feelings.

“This support from the Mastercard Foundation will be transformative in assisting our current Indigenous students as they realize their academic goals during this period of uncertainty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said UNBC Interim President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Geoff Payne. “In addition, by collaborating with communities, technology innovators, and our northern post-secondary partners, this project will enhance the capacity for future distance education through improved internet access.”



trevor.hewitt@interior-news.com
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