K-12 education in the Northwest Territories (NWT) has always been challenged by the vastness of its territory and the relative small number of high school students attending its many rural schools. Having access to a limited number of resources, small community schools often struggle to offer a wide array of courses to meet the needs of all students. The NWT’s Education Renewal and Innovation initiative (see https://www.ece.gov.nt.ca/en/services/education-renewal) aims to mitigate some of these challenges and to provide equity for NWT students in small communities. One of the strategies implemented to better meet the needs of students has been a partnership between the Beaufort Delta Education Council (BDEC) and the Northwest Territories Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) named the Northern Distance Learning (NDL) pilot initiative (see https://www.ece.gov.nt.ca/en/services/education-renewal/northern-distance-learning for more background). BDEC started the eLearning initiative eight years ago. Almost four years ago, ECE partnered with BDEC on a pilot to test the expansion of the NDL approach. The pilot aims to provide students the opportunity to pursue academic courses which otherwise would not be possible to offer in small communities, while fostering agency in the students.
The pilot continues to expand to schools in other NWT boards of education. Beaufort Delta Education Council schools Helen Kalvak (Ulukhaktok), Chief Julius (Fort McPherson), and Mangilaluk (Tuktoyaktuk) are all returning to the initiative this year, as are South Slave District Education Council’s, Deninu School (Fort Resolution) and Decho Divisional Education Council’s Echo Dene School (Fort Liard). Another board has joined this current school year, Sahtu Divisional Education Council (Chief T’Selehye School in Fort Good Hope) and another BDEC school, Moose Kerr School (Aklavik).
Using a dedicated network service called V-Connect and the Moodle Learning Management System, NDL sees Inuvik teachers instruct community students via videoconference. This features a synchronous, online course delivery which is allowing community students to access academic courses without having to leave their communities. Classes are face-to-face, on screen, every day for the entire semester. Qualified volunteers monitor work alongside the students in the communities, offering support to students and liaising with the online Inuvik teachers. The participating boards share a portion of the costs associated with the pilot.
Over the past 3 years, the NDL program had an overall success (i.e., pass) rate of 71%. For the current school semester there are a total of 45 students enrolled in four academic courses taught out of Inuvik (i.e., Social Studies 20-1, Math 10C, English 30-1 and Science 10). Four more courses will be taught during the second semester.
Committed teachers, strong partnerships, increasing bandwidth, and driven students are bringing a more equitable high school experience to all NWT students. The NDL program has filled an important void and continues to grow, a testament to its importance in providing equitable learning opportunities to all students in our territory.