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Computers for Success Nunavut: Helping Bridge the Digital Divide in the North

Helping to bridge the digital divide in the territory, the Computers for Success Nunavut program provides technology and, by extension, opportunities for northern communities, an exciting prospect for Pinnguaq and for program participants.

Computers for Success Nunavut (CFSN) is a part of the Government of Canada program Computers for Schools Plus, which has refurbished and distributed over 1.6 million computers and offered more than 7000 paid internships nationally since its inception in 1993.  An extension of Computers for Success Canada, CFSN has been administered by Pinnguaq Association since 2016, and has delivered more than a thousand computers across the territory while additionally providing STEAM education programs within our communities. 

“There exists a digital divide in Nunavut, as in many places, where those without access to technology are closed off from important opportunities.  This problem is exacerbated in the territory by internet costs, lack of local supply, and price inflation.  Knowing that a student is capable of engaging in studies, an individual can compose a resume, or communication can exist between communities that might have been impossible otherwise really gives meaning to our work,” says Alex Smithers, Manager of CFSN.

What We Do

The three objectives of our work through the CFSN program are: 

  1. Increase access to technology for Nunavummiut
  2. Provide in-territory employment and training opportunities in the technology sector
  3. Reduce e-waste by giving used computers a second life

“The program ultimately delivers computer hardware to members of Nunavut communities. This hardware facilitates learning by assisting students in their academic pursuits, or being a medium over which training can be conducted,” explains Smithers.

Computers distributed were also equipped with basic software to aid in academic or STEM pursuits, including Blender (3D Modeling), Gimp (image processing), Open Office (word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, etc.) and Scratch (introductory programming).

The demographic of this program is any person in need of a computer.  Recipients have been as young as Grade 4 (the target audience of the Learning on the Land Kits) with a high proportion of computers being given to high school students to assist with their studies.

“We would additionally love to serve any community elders and anybody in between,” notes Smithers.  

CFSN is an ongoing program that is looking to continue growing throughout the territory of Nunavut by both widening our distribution network and increasing capacity.

Qikiqtani computers for digital skills development
Qikiqtani Industry received computers over the summer as part of Computers for Success Nunavut in order for them to conduct a training program.

Where the Computers Go

In the past quarter alone, CFSN has distributed more than 60 computers to residents of Nunavut, including through the following donations:

Inuksuk High School – Iqaluit – 21 Computers

With the school moving to half-attendance on account of the pandemic, students who had previously relied on use of the computer lab to complete homework assignments were left without the means to keep up with work.  A large number of Inuksuk High School students in need are still without computers, but the CFS donation was a start.

Ilagiittugut Center For Youth – Iqaluit – 3 Computers

At the beginning of the school year, the Ilagiittugut Center for Youth, a girls group home, was approached to inquire whether any residents were in need of computers to aid with school work.  CFSN supplied the home with three computers: two to help students with school work along with an additional laptop for staff use.

Learning on the Land Kit – Iqaluit – 12 Computers

Pinnguaq sent 12 Learning on the Land kits to Iqaluit for distribution in mid November. These computers came pre-loaded with Micro:bits, applications and activities, and were given out to youth to allow for organizational programming to be carried out at home.

Umimmak School – Grise Fiord – 5 Computers

Similar to the Learning on the Land Kits sent to Iqaluit, five kits were sent to Umimmak School in Grise Fiord to provide additional learning resources and bolster the supply of computers that remained in the community from a previous Pinnguaq in-community program delivery.

Ikajuqtuq Training & Consulting – Iqaluit/Kinngait  – 12 Computers

Ikajuqtuq is an organization that provides adult education and training programmes.  CFSN provided Ikajuqtuq with 12 chromebooks for two computer literacy training courses, one in Iqaluit and one in Kinngait.

Piruqatigiit Resource Centre – Iqaluit – 5 Computers

CFSN was able to provide the Piruqatigiit Resource Centre with five computers that assisted in conducting remote instruction of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders respite training.  Ordinarily this training would have been done in person in Iqaluit, but due to COVID lockdown travel restrictions, that was not possible.  Computers were sent to participants in Nunavut communities so that the training could be conducted remotely.

Municipality of Igloolik – Igloolik – 4 Computers

The Mayor of the Municipality of Igloolik requested computers be donated to the community at the beginning of the pandemic.  This fall, we were able to send an additional four computers to Igloolik.  

“A small contribution, but hopefully one that will be appreciated,” says Smithers.

Community Impact

The direct impact this program has on the community is that it provides access to technology.  By extension, people can access all the things technology unlocks such as education, job opportunities, communication and entertainment.  

Specifically throughout the pandemic, this program has directly impacted community members who may have otherwise struggled to stay in contact with loved ones.

Robynn Pavia of Ikajuqtuq Training & Consulting highlighted what this meant for those impacted.

CFSN Digital Learners
Photo provided by Robynn Pavia

“I think this is such a worthwhile program to be able to get computers to people that otherwise can’t afford them and with COVID being able to connect with friends and family across the territory has become so much more important. I have seen that when we get one computer to someone that doesn’t have one the whole family benefits,” says Pavia.

“The participants in Kinngait were very happy with the computers and I left 2 with the hotel owner for her children so that they could do school online because they only had 1 tablet but two children trying to do school. She was very happy to be able to give them to her children.

One of the participants in Kinngait has very basic computer skills so she is glad to be able to learn to keep up with her young children.”

With respect to job preparedness, a participant who was granted use of one of the computers provided through CFSN for her hospitality training noted it was “very useful” and “pretty easy to use and functional.” 

A student of Inuksuk High School also appreciated the opportunity to use a computer provided by CFSN, echoing how useful it has been for their studies.

Next Steps

“While the CFSN program has been successful in distributing computers to Nunavummiut over the past three months, there is still much room for the program to grow. Our aim continues to be the establishment of in territory capabilities to intake and refurbish computers,”  says Smithers.

“Strides have been made in that direction over the past three months, most notably the beginning of a partnership with the Government of Nunavut that would see surplus computer hardware sent to the CFSN program instead of becoming e-waste.”

Smithers says once this relationship is in place, he looks forward to hiring local staff to begin refurbishment operations, serving the program’s purpose of providing training and job opportunities to youth while simultaneously reducing e-waste in the territory. 

Computers for Success Nunavut continues to seek donations and/or requests for computer hardware, and invites any Nunavummuit to contact us.

Pinnguaq

Pinnguaq

About the Author

Pinnguaq Association, a not-for-profit organization, incorporates STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) into unique learning applications that promote storytelling, health, wellness and growth with rural and remote communities. At its core, Pinnguaq embraces diversity and creates opportunities in order to empower all people.