Magazine article Teach

Technology and the Rural Board

Magazine article Teach

Technology and the Rural Board

Article excerpt

Students like seven year-old Kelsey Haberer amaze her principal, Wayne Nicholls. The Grade 2 student at Zurich Public School spends one period every day working on computers and the Internet in the rural school's library resource centre. She and her classmates could be learning from a scientist at the Canadian Space Agency, tracking bird migration with classes further south or working on the school newsletter.

"It amazes me to see the use of technology in education, right down to the Grade 1 students. Their feet don't touch the floor but their fingers are going," said Nicholls.

The school, north of London, Ontario, is a part of the newly amalgamated Avon-Maitland District School Board, formerly the Perth County Board of Education and the Huron County Board of Education. "We saw the need for students to be technically literate," said Janet Baird-Jackson, superintendent. Baird-Jackson was part of the original team overseeing the increased used of computers in the board's classrooms and administration. This is a rural board and has less money to spend. With fewer dollars in the budget, there are fewer learning materials and fewer staff members. Technology has given the students access to an unlimited amount of current information on the Internet and put them in touch with specialists, like the scientist from the Canadian Space Agency.

The library resource centres, like the one Kelsey Haberer uses, have been built in most of the former Huron County schools. Since amalgamation, the board has been bringing the centres into the former Perth County schools. This year, the goal is to ensure equal access to computers in schools across the entire district, said Maggie Crane, principal of information technology for the board. This past summer, the board purchased 600 computers that were distributed to schools that needed them. Crane said the board aims to have at least 32 computers in each school.

In addition, online distance education courses are being created and broader student course selections are available at Seaforth District High School where students developed a new history curriculum on CD-ROM. "If education is going to meet its obligations to society, it has to prepare students for what is out there," said Prof. John Rutledge of the computer and business departments of Althouse at the University of Western Ontario. Computers are an integral part of everyday life and students have to know how to use them and access information with them, said Rutledge.

Given one of the smallest budgets in the province, it isn't easy to live up to that commitment. The Avon-Maitland board operates 56 elementary and secondary schools from Stratford to Goderich and from Exeter to Listowel on an annual budget of $127 million.

Baird-Jackson said the board got started by applying for as many Ministry of Education and Training grants as it could. So far, it has received $800,000 through the Technology Incentive Partnership Program from the government. For its 1998/99 academic year, the Avon-Maitland board had a technology budget of $3,720,000. The two former boards had spent a combined amount of $4,419,000 previously. To make the books balance, the new board had to reduce its annual computer spending by $700,000.

Every year at budget time, money for computers may be cut back but never cut out. Baird-Jackson said the board held back a portion of each school's budget and dedicated it to purchasing computers for the schools. As a result, schools were forced to use e-mail to communicate, cutting their costs in paper and long distance phone calls. "It was helping them move to a new way of doing business. It was a forced migration to technology," she said.

It takes leadership, drive and the right team to bring technology into a school system said former director of education, Paul Carroll. "It became an expectation that teachers had to become technically literate."

Crane's department offered courses on various programs over the summer. …

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