Higher education has historically been one of the least digitized sectors of the economy, but that trend isn’t likely to hold. While the pandemic brought change, it in fact merely scratched the surface of technology-driven opportunities, particularly as it comes to providing equitable access to earning a degree.
Such access, of course, depends on the technology available to support it – a gap that widens among racialized and marginalized groups.
For people in remote areas, particularly those in Indigenous communities, the need here is particularly acute. One initiative by ReBOOT Canada – supported by the Canadian Internet Registry Authority, Indigenous Services Canada, PLC Info, and Cisco Canada – aims to change the picture by demonstrating how secure, remote connectivity can impart meaningful change.
Eel River Bar First Nation (Ugpi’ganjig) is a Mi’gmaq First Nation in New Brunswick currently home to just over 400 full-time residents. In May 2021, the community reached a novel milestone with the launch of their first Wi-Fi access point at the local post office.
Through the power of Cisco’s Meraki, this access point was part of an initiative by ReBOOT that offers paid mentorship for Indigenous youth to facilitate the deployment of a Wi-Fi hotspot while fostering skills development, networking, and knowledge-sharing among youth, their communities and Elders, and other remote communities.
Using Cisco’s Meraki cloud-based connectivity platform, which securely connects devices to the cloud via SSL, ReBOOT worked with the local band council to hire 21-year old resident Elijah LaBillois to establish a free hotspot and manage its use.
“My hopes for this community Wi-Fi project were that we could improve not just connectivity for our youth but our elders as well,” says Mr. LaBillois. “I hope we can leverage the increased level of access afforded to our community to help connect the young and old, and foster intergenerational discussion so that they can learn from one another. Our Elders have much they can teach, and I hope that they can use the internet as an avenue to share those teachings. I hope that our Elders and youth find this new resource helpful, and that they find many new opportunities thanks to it.”
These programs hold valuable lessons for post-secondary institutions. They signify the possibilities that exist beyond the barriers of brick-and-mortar institutions – and even beyond course curriculum. Bringing access and equity to students in all communities means delivering meaningful learning opportunities across the educational spectrum, from virtual mental health services and supports to helping facilitate meaningful, continuous skills training and job placements.
Connectivity platforms such as Meraki are already in use by schools across North America, keeping faculty, educators and students connected via secure remote access, no matter the location, no matter the sensitivity of data. Whether it’s employing advanced IoT technologies or providing intuitive experiences for users, employees, pr students, Meraki can:
- Provide users an uninterrupted and future-ready experiences with self-optimizing Wi-Fi;
- Provide full observability into the user experience, tailor the experiences even further; and
- Enable more secure experiences with a wireless solution that automatically assigns rules and enforces policies for each class of user.
Today is an opportunity: to take lessons learned during the pandemic and use them to drive our thinking forward in order to broaden the student base and give new meaning to the term “distance learning” – in all its forms.
Willa Black is the vice president of corporate affairs at Cisco Canada.