Alberta’s rural internet cannot keep up with COVID-19 educational needs
Moving back into my parent’s house in Botha for the summer, I was reunited with one of my biggest fears, a poor internet connection. Coming from Edmonton, I’ll be the first to admit that I am a spoiled city dweller. Still, as I whine about being unable to load Facebook videos or watch Tik Toks, the harsh reality is that I have equally struggled to upload resumes and to register for my fall classes at the University of Alberta. All jokes aside, the internet available for my parents and many other rural Albertans cannot support the high bandwidth required for online schooling. I fear that students without any better options will fall behind struggling with a lower quality of education.
I am not alone in this opinion. At the latest Stettler county council meeting, the councillors unanimously passed a motion to contact Alberta Infrastructure regarding the “huge deficit” in Alberta rural internet. The councillors expressed concern that the currently available infrastructure cannot support the high demand and necessity of online schooling we are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Leading the proposal, Councillor James Nibourg worried that “Rural Alberta is going to have to leave to get internet access, and if they do, they are not going to come back.” Councillor Nibourg reinforced this sentiment with a personal experience detailing how two of his children had to move in with relatives at Rocky Mountain House. The internet strength in Erskine was not sufficient for their online studies.
Councillor Nibourg’s story resonates very closely with me. This upcoming Fall semester at the University of Alberta will be fully remote; to remain competitive at school, I will need to move back to Edmonton. For the first time in my adult life, rather than living 2 hours away from my nearest family, I can stay with them but will be unable to due to the lack of internet. For me, this is a mere inconvenience, but for many other students in similar situations without access to alternative living arrangements, they will inevitably struggle and get lower grades.
“Rural Alberta is going to have to leave to get internet access, and if they do, they are not going to come back.” Councillor Nibourg
Naturally, this migration of skilled labour from rural to urban areas has a significant adverse effect on our rural economies. Just as students leave, we also face reluctance to move back to these communities after schooling because, as for most students, our skills require technology (including a reliable internet connection) to flourish and create value.
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to push more and more education online, students without adequate internet will be left unfairly disadvantaged. Like how we will be stuck waiting for lectures to load and notes to download, rural Albertans are left watching their loved ones struggle and leave as they wait for a response from our government.
Jospeh Hoekstra, Reporter