Concerns about connectivity in the classrooms emerged from these discussions. Schmalz says that there used to be the only laptop in the room that the teacher used.
“Now that has changed. Every child in the classroom has an electronic learning tool and we want to make sure everyone has equal opportunities to use the best resources available for their education,” he said.
With the passage of the resolution, it falls to SARM to lobby the government and all ISPs in the province to jointly review and make recommendations to expand broadband access for rural schools. Schmalz admitted, to his own surprise, that the resolution was not 100 percent supported.
“[Internet access] is not necessarily a pretty thing, but in this day and age it is a necessity for farms and businesses that operate outside of major urban centers and away from hard-wired fiber optics,” he said.
Schmalz mentioned the example of the East Central School, which has a hard line, but he explained that for some reason a throttling was done for granting restricted access.
Garden River Reeve Ryan Scragg noted that in the case of Meath Park School they use the same service he has in his own home.
“If our rural schools are so disadvantaged compared to urban schools, I think it’s important to address that and speak out against it,” he said.
Noting that school departments have already done a great job of raising the issue with government, Scragg expressed his own desire to bring SARMs into the conversation. A more unified voice can help push the issue further and get something done.
A spokesman for the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division told paNOW that they support the recommendations made and are working to address the differences in internet access between urban and rural schools. Chief Financial Officer Jerrold Pidborochynski explained that all of the schools have a SaskTel connection and the download speeds across the city are just much faster.
“So if you have the same number of students using the same number of devices, it’s going to be slower in a rural school,” he said.
Pidborochynski also expressed support for the opportunity to work with SARM and the local RMs.
“It’s a concern for them, and it’s definitely a concern for us, too,” he said.
Response from the Ministry of Education
In a statement to paNOW, the Saskatchewan government said it wants all students to have the support they need to thrive, including access to reliable broadband service.
“SaskTel continues to invest in rural broadband deployments – to bring faster speeds to businesses and homes, and to provide students with improved connectivity when away from school. As part of its Rural Fiber Initiative, SaskTel is committed to investing $200 million by the end of March 2025 to expand its infiNET service to over 110,000 residents and businesses in more than 130 rural communities,” the statement said.
The statement went on to say that CommunityNet is providing high-speed broadband to all schools in Saskatchewan and the recent CommunityNet agreement provides schools with $70 million in funding over five years.
“Network capacity is reviewed annually to ensure broadband speeds meet schools’ needs. All schools will be served with dedicated connections, with most having fiber for over 10 years,” the ministry said.
“The Department of Education meets regularly with all school departments and we work together to resolve any broadband issues.”
On Twitter: @nigelmaxwell