A videoconferencing system is proving to be a lifeline for manyFirst Nations communities in Quebec, offering residentsopportunities in education and training not previously accessible,thanks to the First Nations Education Council (FNEC).

The FNEC spearheaded the project to implement the system in 22communities with the financial support of several governmentpartners including the department of Indian and Northern Affairs,with a total budget of approximately $1,700,000.

“Whenever there’s a success with the First Nations it’s alwaysbecause of their leadership,” said Pierre Nepton, regionalassociate director general, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.”Any success depends on the community involvement and that’s whathappened with the FNEC, it’s about creating opportunities, creatingtraining.”

Nepton said his department contributed $600,000 “over a coupleof years.”

One of the ultimate goals Nepton would like to realize with thisproject is allowing both First Nations and educators to jointogether, not only in training but in sharing best practices andinformation.

“Something that now could be done a lot easier than the past,”he said. “This new system allows teachers from differentcommunities to receive training without traveling great distancesas they would have prior to this system.”

The reduction in travel time was experienced firsthand by NancyDoddridge, director of education for the community of Gesgapegiag,Que. a Mic Mac community with a population of 550.

Doddridge said before videoconferencing a meeting in Quebecmeant three days out of the office at a cost of $1,200. “Now it’s atwo hour meeting with zero costs. The savings have just beenastronomical.”

The 22 communities realize the potential of this technologybecause many are in rural and remote areas of the province,according to Tim Whiteduck, technology co-ordinator, FNEC.

“The project was deployed in four stages, with the deploymentphase including everything from a site evaluation to roomrenovations,” said Whiteduck. “The installation is not just asimple TV and videoconferencing system connected together.”

He added they will have a projector mounted on the ceiling anddisplayed on a smart board, with the board then adjusted tounderstand what’s being projected onto itself.

“Smart board technology is like an interactive whiteboard andworks similar to a large mouse pad,” he said. “It’s a teachingdevice and this is what we wanted to give the communities.”

He noted that not all the 22 communities are First Nations, “butthat’s a large part of it.”

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