Mid-Term Evaluation — First Nations SchoolNet Program
Section 3: Project Findings — Industry Canada Staff
The Consultant completed eleven key informant interviews with Industry Canada National and Regional staff including the Program Director, Program Manager, Project Officers as well as Regional Office (RO) staff. The responses of the key informants are detailed in the following sections in aggregate form.
3.1 Program Participation
The FNS program involves direct management and support from Industry Canada as well as representatives in each of the six defined regions. The Industry Canada Regional Office (RO) staff typically act as a liaison between the Industry Canada national office and the RMO staff in the delivery of the program. This role plays a vital link in the communication and management of the program. The role is supported through participation in monthly conference calls and videoconferences. In most cases, the RO also assists the RMO in their region with reporting duties, specifically preparation with the RMO's proposal and resulting Contribution Agreement with Industry Canada national office. The RO is also in a position to oversee and assist with program delivery and related activities of the RMO.
Prior to the implementation of RMOs, the FNS program was centralized and managed exclusively by Industry Canada who worked directly with First Nations schools. Of the respondents that had experience with the FNS program both before and after the implementation of RMOs, all stated that the establishment of the RMOs has afforded a better program delivery approach and has surpassed the results achieved when the program was centrally managed. The benefits of using RMOs were stated as providing a more personal approach by having not-for-profit organizations deliver the program directly to the residents of the community through established relationships with community members. Of the six organizations, five are First Nations oriented with the remaining organization focused to an Aboriginal clientele. These relationships were thought to allow for a more responsive and tailored approach to the 567 First Nations schools served by the program.
3.2 Program Management
3.2.1 Communication and Roles/Responsibilities
To assess the degree of communication between the levels of management of the FNS program, respondents were asked questions pertaining to communication as well as the roles and responsibilities of the RMOs, Industry Canada Regional Offices, and the Industry Canada national office. There was consensus that sufficient processes were in place to facilitate communication among all the levels of staff involved in the program. It was felt that through the regular videoconferences, teleconferences and e-mail correspondence, the lines of communication were clear and people were responsive to concerns. The amount of communication between the RO and the RMO tended to vary across the regions, but in most cases this relationship proved to be valuable. Overall, the roles and responsibilities of the RMOs, Industry Canada Regional Offices, and the Industry Canada national office were found to be clearly outlined through the Contribution Agreement and all of those interviewed agreed that duplication of roles or responsibilities was non-existent.
3.2.2 Monitoring/Reporting on the Program
The results of RMO program delivery of First Nations SchoolNet were delivered through a number of different methods. The monthly reports on activities and financial claims were noted as important for providing useful information on the progress of each RMO. Other respondents noted that research has been conducted through an RBAF and RMAF, the current mid-term evaluation, and a recent audit which have all helped to detail the activities undertaken by each RMO. It was noted that evaluating the progress made by the RMOs in helping First Nations schools is often difficult due to the challenge of knowing how the services provided by the program have been utilized by each school. Accurate assessments are also influenced by the high turnover rates among teachers in First Nations schools. To identify and collect performance measurements and the impact of the program, a more complicated and labour intensive process would need to be performed through either assigning additional resources to allow for more on-site visits by IC RO staff or by having more videoconferencing where available.
3.2.3 Resource Availability and Levels
For the First Nations SchoolNet program to be delivered as intended, the level of resources would need to match the objectives of the program. Respondents were questioned about the level of staff, infrastructure, and funding associated with the program and whether they would modify the current resources in amount, distribution, or allocation. It was found that the majority of respondents noted that the Industry Canada national office is currently short-staffed by two positions, resulting in more tasks for the current staff. Generally, it was felt that RMOs and ROs are properly staffed and although there is a lot for each office to accomplish, they are managing the best they can to stay within their budget. The remote locations of the First Nations schools limited the amount of direct contact due to the expenses associated with traveling to the communities. Several respondents noted that with increased resources, RMO staff would be in the position to train more teachers with technology associated with FNS and build on existing relationships with community members. Overall, respondents felt the program requires secure funding for the next several years to ensure broadband connectivity to all First Nations schools and to reach the objectives of the program (described in Section 1.2).
Further to general inquiries of the resources of the FNS program, respondents were asked whether the current resources were sufficient to meet the demand in the First Nations community and whether the resources are keeping pace with what students require. There was considerable variance in the responses with several respondents stating that current connectivity requires additional resources to meet demand in the First Nations communities and to offset increasing connectivity costs. Other responses included the need for additional support for training youth as well as language and culture, curriculum development, and e-learning. One suggestion provided noted that to increase the resources for the program, it would be beneficial to establish partnerships with other programs and government departments to obtain additional resources.
3.2.4 Challenges to Program Management
Overall, respondents were positive about the mandate and implementation of the FNS program, although a number of challenges persist. A common issue that was found to be difficult was identifying how First Nations schools are using FNS services and whether students are developing skills. Due to the remoteness of the schools, travel is difficult and expensive for RMO staff indicating a need for additional resources. Another issue pertaining to RMO program delivery was the recognition of the need to simplify the reporting process as it currently takes a lot of resources to provide the monthly and annual reports. With a simplified reporting process with standardized reports, it was stated that resources would be made available for other RMO tasks. Other challenges to program delivery mentioned include the shortage of staff at the national level, and the lack of a national database of the First Nations schools served that would provide an inventory of what they have received through the program.
In addition to the aforementioned challenges, most of the respondents cited a lack of a long-term focus of the FNS program. It was stated that a long-term focus and funding security would allow more time to deliver the program and reach the intended goals. With short timeframes, it was felt that a proper analysis of the impact of the program would be difficult. Further, the need for partnerships to ensure sustainability was noted. Through establishing partnerships, many felt that Industry Canada would be able to utilize other similar programs to reach the objectives and benefit the clients. Specifically, these partnerships could help with funding levels and possibly subsidize the increased costs of connectivity.top of page
3.3 Program Delivery
In December of 2002, Industry Canada selected six not-for-profit organizations to become RMOs to work directly with First Nations schools in their respective region. Respondents were asked a number of questions pertaining to the implementation and effectiveness of using RMOs to deliver the First Nations SchoolNet program. The general consensus was that RMOs represent a positive change in program delivery from being centrally managed by Industry Canada. Respondents felt that through RMOs, the needs of the First Nations schools and communities were better understood, resulting in program delivery that was tailored and more responsive. It was stated that due to the success of the RMOs delivering the FNS program, additional resources including staff and funding were then allocated to the program. Further, the awareness of local realities and the cultural awareness also helped establish credibility of the program resulting in greater acceptance and appreciation of the program.
3.3.1 Challenges to Program Delivery
Overall, the satisfaction with the progress made by the RMOs was overwhelming, therefore most challenges outlined by respondents were potential, rather than actual. Several of the respondents could not identify any challenges associated with using RMOs to deliver the FNS program, however, comments regarding the ability of the RMOs to correctly identify the needs of the First Nations schools was mentioned. Further risks include having enough qualified organizations to select one that would be able to meet the mandate of the program, although the respondents who noted this risk qualified the remark by stating that all of the current RMOs were meeting their targets. It was generally felt that with the management processes in place to identify the activities of the RMOs, the goals of the program were being met and there was consensus that the program was implemented as intended with no evident gaps in program delivery.
3.3.2 Opportunities for Program Delivery
While progress continues to be made with the FNS program, there remain opportunities that could benefit the program. Of the opportunities listed by the respondents, the most commonly cited opportunity lies in building partnerships with other departments or agencies as well as making more connections with other programs. Educational software and distance learning were provided as innovative opportunities to be explored and expanded in the FNS program although a few respondents stated that their focus remains on connectivity. Others noted that the unique needs and challenges of the First Nations schools in their region need to be addressed more carefully prior to any plans for e-learning, or other innovative avenues. The lack of local capacity to implement other opportunities should be viewed as an indication that additional training or other resources may be required prior to these opportunities being employed.
3.4 Program Impact
There were a number of positive outcomes cited by respondents due to the success of the FNS program. One of the most frequently cited positive element of the program noted was the strength of the national network involving the RMO, Industry Canada Regional Office, and Industry Canada national office staff in terms of program management and delivery. The efficiency of this structure and the frequent communication were thought to be of significant importance to the overall success. The primary objective of the program of providing high speed connectivity to the First Nations schools was also noted due to the educational benefits, future applications (i.e. distance education, e-learning, and e-health), and the ability of the program to help students in First Nations schools to be better prepared for employment opportunities. The Internet was seen as a tool for students that could support First Nations students in becoming competitive in a knowledge-based community.
Respondents were questioned about the progress made towards the overall goals of the FNS program. The objectives of the First Nations SchoolNet program are:
- To promote innovation in First Nations schools by providing them with connectivity infrastructure, related support services, and a new pedagogical approach addressed to teachers;
- To support the production of First Nations — based relevant online educational resources;
- To contribute to the establishment of an ICT culture in First Nations schools through investments in the ICT skills training of First Nations learners and teaching staff;
- To promote the use and integration of ICT into First Nations classrooms for learning purposes; and
- To help First Nations learners acquire the skills and knowledge to be better able to access the job market.
Respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that the FNS program is meeting its objectives, however, many cautioned that the aforementioned objectives are long-term and difficult to gauge at this point in time. All respondents stated that FNS was implemented as intended, has produced positive impacts, and most were more comfortable speaking on the program's ability to meet shorter-term outcomes. Overall, respondents noted that the program is headed in the right direction, and with continued support and increased funding to build local capacity, the objectives will be reached in the next several years.
The perceived importance of the FNS program in fostering connectedness amongst First Nations schools was evident with all of the RMO coordinators rating the program as either very or extremely important. Industry Canada respondents elaborated on this importance by stating that the FNS program provides opportunities not provided by any other program through connectivity, training, and a tailored approach to account for local needs. The program was also seen as essential in the education of First Nations students, and is viewed with the potential to create employment opportunities thereby positively influencing the economy while providing needed skills to First Nations students.
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