Northern agencies recognized for literacy work

By Eric Shih
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Thunder Bay Source

The Sioux-Hudson Literacy Council and Contact North are being recognized for their contributions to literacy.

The two non-profit organizations collaborate with four others in Ontario on a project called the e-Channel Network, which delivers online literacy and basic skills programs.

In September, the e-Channel Network was awarded a 2022 Council of the Federation Literacy Award, which is given out annually to a person or organization in each province and territory for contributions to literacy.

The organizations were presented a medal this week during an online meeting by MPP’s David Smith and Deepak Anand, who are parliamentary assistants to the Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development.

Linda Wright, the director of distance projects at Sioux-Hudson Literacy Council, said her organization was very thankful for the recognition of its work it does on its Good Learning Anywhere online learning channel.

“It is important trying to make learning accessible to adults across Ontario who may otherwise not have the opportunity to upgrade their skills for schoolwork or home,” she said. “It’s been really nice to be recognized [together with] the e-Channel partners because for over 15 years we’ve really worked hard to overcome some of the challenges with technology and learning. So It’s been nice to be recognized with them as a group for the work that we do.”

Wright said they were just a tiny community-based program that somehow got in there two decades ago as part of a pilot program.

“The project was literally [asking], can people learn literacy skills at a distance? And we were taking textbooks down to the float plane and flying them up to the northern communities and the ministry was actually using an online platform at that time, and we went hmm? I wonder if we could use this for learning?” she said.

“Twenty years ago, when technology was not was it is today, we were trying to do online classes and doing pre-GED and some literacy and basic skills teaching that way. We just continued to keep our toes in the pot that sort of thing, and continued to grow the last 20 years and as technology has evolved, people have bought into the idea, people can learn online,“ she said.

They had 15 learners the first year, Wright said.

“Now we’re over 1,000 learners a year across Ontario,” she said.

She said there were a lot of challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, which required supporting face-to-face programs that needed to shut down. She added access was reduced or eliminated at places which offer public use of computer terminals, so they experienced a reduction people taking their programs.

“[For] some families, [they asked themselves], is it the kids that get to do school online or do I get to do mine right now, when there’s one computer in the house?” she said. “We definitely saw it as a challenge for those people who already have many barriers to learning.”

That’s why reducing barriers and increasing access in a welcoming way is so important for the Literacy Council, and why Wright said their services are needed more than ever.

“We’re able to offer the courses for no fee to the client, which is huge because really our goal within e-Channel is really to start to ignite that love of learning and be able to get them to that next step, whether they’re going to get their high school credit or they’re going to go to post-secondary or they’re looking for work,” Wright said.

“The client [might not have] had a great experience with learning before, that’s why e-Channel is so important to kind of be that match to light the flame to take them into whatever path they’re going to take with their lifelong learning.”    

For Thunder Bay-based Contact North, its role with e-Channel is to support the five service delivery agencies, which includes the Sioux-Hudson Literacy Council, by hosting and providing technical assistance for learning platforms.

Sarah Gauvreau, the director of literacy and basic skills for Contact North (e-Channel), said, “we also provide instructor training on these platforms, host and maintain the e-Channel web portal, coordinate professional development for the network and provide free laptops and Internet sticks to learners who don’t have access to hardware to complete their learning.”

Gauvreau said the recognition “speaks to the importance of online learning as a viable, effective way to deliver quality education, allowing learners to pursue their goals related to employment, apprenticeship, post-secondary education, secondary school credit and independence.”