How ICT Can Create A Difference For Northern Communities

The three territories of Canada cover 40% of the total area with a population less than half a percent of the country. Providing service and opportunities to grow in this remote, vast plain has been difficult due to multiple ecological and socioeconomic aspects.

Telecommunication facilities are vital to economic activity, market development, and governance. They are necessary for moving data, completing transactions, communicating with people, as well as accessing online information. The availability and dependability of high-speed Internet also help to assure such affordances as distance-learning programs and effective telehealth services. Communications infrastructure built and managed by local people function as community networks, offering Indigenous communities a way to meet their own needs. Thus, in remote regions, telecommunications systems provide vital lifelines between communities.

An absence of educational services in a community can prevent external investment and hinder professionals and families from relocating to the area. It can also cause families and friendships to fall apart as people leave their community to pursue learning and educational opportunities elsewhere. Conversely, the availability of schools and other educational facilities can work to improve community development, well-being, and the overall attractiveness of a community to businesses. Better educational outcomes are central to developing the socio-economic well-being of Northern Aboriginal communities.

Much of the territories population are youths. The median age for Canada is 40.3, but for Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Yukon, it’s 26.6%, 33.7%, and 39.6%, respectively. These youths provide both opportunities and challenges for the economy and community. Most communities residing in the northern territories are indigenous. Almost half of the Indigenous residents do not have a job. Four out of five non-Indigenous people are employed in the areas of the north. This gap between indigenous and non-indigenous group has remained consistent for decades, according to Statistics Canada.

However, these Indigenous people are also living in smaller communities. Providing education and creating employment opportunity based on resources and growth remain a significant challenge in these areas. Though there is access to primary and secondary schools, post-secondary education paints a different picture. For most higher education means going into provinces as there is lack of facilities. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can become a tool to develop skill sets and increase life-standard effectively.

Widespread adoption of e-learning scenarios can bring in a new dimension for post-secondary education in these territories. There is also the option to provide blended learning facilities, pairing autonomous learners with local mentors or facilitators and peers. This can also introduce a part where students will get the chance to visit the host institute in an exchange program. Studies have shown that such a communication-based method often provides better outcomes than simple e-learning applications where students work in physical isolation.

Besides education, ICT can ensure specific digital skills that can be utilized in securing remote employment. In Canada alone, the job market in the high-skilled computer and information systems professionals group apart grew by nearly six times in the last ten years. The potential for distance learning and Internet-based employment requires an education system to be adaptive. This has been done in other remote areas in Canada. For example, many of the educational and community professionals living in Wollaston Lake received their training through a blended system, not separated from their community and now, serving their people. Both the primary and secondary school has computer labs. These computers can be used to provide youths with training in the evenings that can enable to work remotely on projects and give the source of work opportunity and income.

Affordable, high-quality Internet access can also mean community sustainability. Communities with access to the internet encourage policymakers and regulators to explore new modes to permeate digital divides, like supporting local content in the appropriate language, providing services in the language necessary. Effective ICT instruments have played an essential role in development through improving accessibility, employment opportunities, quality of life, and e-governance in remote areas of Africa and Asia.

The interventions surrounding ICT have high effectiveness in improving households’ income, employment rate, diffusion of information among stakeholders and businesses. They have also been effective in decreasing the migration of people and enhancing e-governance from remote areas. We want the northern communities to be sustainable and thriving. The focus should be on interventions that incorporate consultation with community members and blend ICT effectively towards a prosperous North.

Palash Sanyal is a professional in the field of sustainable development, environment, and energy. He has worked with IFAD, TEDTalk, WaterAid Bangladesh and other non-government organizations. Palash specializes in innovative design processes, behavioral change, and transdisciplinary sustainability issues. He has more than five years of facilitation experience, facilitating controversial issues for Soliya, UNESCO, Harvard University, University of Saskatchewan, and various other organizations. Twitter: @prsanyal.