Mid-Term Evaluation — First Nations SchoolNet Program
Section 4: Project Findings — RMO Coordinators
The Consultant completed key informant interviews with six RMO coordinators. Their responses are categorized by theme in the following sections.
4.1 Program Participation
All of the RMO coordinators interviewed were well aware of the funding structure associated with First Nations SchoolNet. This is likely due to the Contribution Agreements signed annually detailing the activities of each RMO along with the timelines and funding levels. The issue of funding is elaborated on in Section 4.2 of this report.
Respondents were asked to describe of the number of people in their organization that are devoted to the management and/or delivery of the program as well as the roles and responsibilities of each member. The number of staff dedicated to the First Nations SchoolNet program ranged from 3 full time staff to 14, although the smaller offices tended to use sub-contractors to fulfill their objectives. While many of the job titles and duties were considered to overlap, RMO staff most commonly includes the following personnel and associated job duties:
- RMO Coordinator — general supervision, management, planning and vision of the RMO. Other duties include reporting on activities and attending national meetings.
- Program Manager(s) — reporting duties, supervising the distribution of resources to schools, developing partnerships for leveraging funding, and other management related tasks.
- IT Systems Analyst(s) / Technician(s) — hardware and software assistance, identification of technical requirements, web design and general technical support.
- Finance Clerk / Accountant(s) — processing of invoices and application forms, generation of activity reports and general accounting tasks.
- Administrative staff — common office duties and general assistance.
Other positions that are often sub-contracted include multimedia technicians, human resource consultant, and persons with specialized duties that include training school representatives on computer-related topics associated with First Nations SchoolNet (e-learning applications).
While most RMOs tend to be achieving their targets with current staffing levels, the ability to sub-contract some tasks has helped in reaching their objectives. Although the RMOs are capable of meeting their targets, several of the RMO coordinators believe that either an increase in staff or in the ability to hire more contract staff would be beneficial to support reporting duties associated with the program as well as the need to interact with schools known for high teacher turnover rates.
The RMOs are commonly located close to the communities they serve and organizations with RMO designation are commonly involved in initiatives outside of the First Nations SchoolNet program. Most of the RMOs have contracts with other programs typically related to computers and education.
4.2 Program Management
Respondents were questioned about common management issues that may affect the delivery of the First Nations SchoolNet program. The responses pertaining to program management were consistent among the informants. The clarity and extent of the guidelines from Industry Canada was investigated and all of the RMO staff responded similarly. All of the respondents felt they received sufficient and clear guidelines from Industry Canada to deliver the First Nations SchoolNet program. Many felt that the Contribution Agreement clearly outlines the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders, and the annual proposals submitted by the RMOs detail the activities to be accomplished during the following year. Suggestions for improvement include standardizing annual reporting through a report template. It is important to note that standardized reporting templates were created by Industry Canada, however this finding indicates a need to promote the available templates.
All respondents were satisfied with the support they received from the Regional Office staff as well as the national office staff from Industry Canada. The Regional Office staff were found to be supportive and adept at facilitating partnerships through frequent communication and knowledge transfer with the RMO staff. Similarly, First Nations SchoolNet national office staff from Industry Canada were portrayed as responsive, helpful in generating funding partnerships, flexible, and beneficial for raising issues and developing solutions encountered with the program. In addition, there was consensus on the clarity of the roles of the various partners of the First Nations SchoolNet program, including RMO, Industry Canada Regional Office, and Industry Canada national office staff. Respondents agreed that roles were well-known with little to no duplication of roles.
Each RMO stated that they follow a business plan in the delivery of the First Nations SchoolNet program and had mechanisms in place to ensure the plan is being followed by their organization. The strategic planning mentioned by respondents is typically based on the Contribution Agreement that includes certain milestones. The business plan is closely monitored and managed with recognition of changing goals and priorities.
To ensure the effectiveness of the First Nations SchoolNet program, RMOs are required to be responsive to the needs of the First Nations schools they serve. Respondents acknowledged that feedback from schools is essential to providing tailored services that recognize local challenges. All of the respondents stated that their RMO has a process to assess schools' ICT situation that include annual ICT surveys of the schools to identify the level of equipment the school possesses, on-site visits to schools, and collecting feedback from FNS staff and community residents. Several of those interviewed stated that a web-based tool would be beneficial to identify the needs of the school, with the results entered into a searchable database. Respondents noted that through frequent communication with school administrators and members of the community and feedback from Help Desk inquiries help to identify and assess the needs of the schools. The overall flexibility of the program was regarded as an essential element to individualize support and services for the First Nations schools served by the program.
Respondents were asked about how they ensure the service they provide to the school support them in meeting their learning objectives. Most explained that they had difficulty finding resources to determine how First Nations schools are using the services provided by the program. Respondents suggested numerous methods that might be used to assess how the services offered by the program are utilized by the school that included frequent communication with school principals, on-site visits that include training sessions with school staff, and a survey of the applications of the technology provided by the program.
Each RMO is involved in evaluating and reporting on the results of the FNS program in the schools they serve. As detailed in the contractual Contribution Agreement, RMOs are required to submit monthly activity reports detailing performance indicators as well as financial claims to keep Industry Canada informed of their progress in reaching their goals for the year. Annual reports and proposals for funding also facilitate evaluating and reporting on the results achieved by the RMO. Other evaluation mechanisms mentioned by RMO coordinators to evaluate and report on results include the collection of information through the Help Desk, sub-contracting an external assessor for general research duties, and management committee meetings. While RMO coordinators understood the function and importance of the reporting affiliated with the program, they frequently stated that current reporting duties account for a considerable amount of staff time. Respondents typically stated that assistance with the reporting tasks would be appreciated, and the most popular solution presented was the establishment of a standardized reporting template and a listing of data required for the reports. Currently, a template exists in the Annex of each Contribution Agreement signed with the RMOs, however, the lack of awareness indicates that greater promotion of the template would be beneficial to the RMO staff.
To effectively reach their objectives, it is essential that each RMO have sufficient resources to meet the demand of First Nations schools. Respondents were asked specifically about the level of staff, infrastructure and monetary resources and whether the current resources are keeping pace with what students require. The need for additional staff was evident, since most of the schools served are in remote locations making on-site visits difficult and expensive. By having more staff at each RMO to visit the First Nations schools, respondents stated that their relationship with the community would improve and they would be more aware of the needs and applications of the support from FNS. Increased on-site visits would also encourage relationships with school administrators resulting in an improved awareness of the school's needs and potential challenges. Staff turnover rates were noted as being quite high in the First Nations schools, leading to reduced efficiency of on-site visits by RMO staff.
Another factor influencing the resources available to meet their objectives was the increase in costs associated with upgrading the existing connections to broadband. The majority of respondents stated that having more schools with improved connectivity represents greater resources spent from their annual budget, thereby sacrificing other areas of the program including on-site visits, training opportunities for school officials, and upgraded computers. Conversely, respondents were aware that the improved connectivity is an integral part of the program and that broadband connectivity increases the number of opportunities for the schools. Overall, most individuals interviewed pointed out that the connectivity infrastructure has improved through the last several years and each RMO is working to their capacity to deliver programming within their budgets although their progress has not been as rapid as they may have hoped for.top of page
4.3 Program Delivery
4.3.1 Services Delivered
Each RMO was asked which services they provide through the First Nations SchoolNet program. Responses were relatively consistent on a national level among the RMOs. The main services offered include the following:
- Community-based provincial connectivity;
- Help Desk support;
- Computer hardware and software;
- Equipment upgrades; and
- ICT technical support and training aimed at capacity building at the local level.
In addition to the aforementioned services, the RMOs also provided other benefits to the First Nations schools in their region. Most respondents noted that they are involved with a Youth Employment initiative or youth programming that enables students in the First Nations schools to help support the technical assistance required in running the FNS program. Several of the RMO coordinators mentioned that they help support the creation and maintenance of the school's web site. A few respondents also noted that they supply security software to the schools in their region to protect against malware and ensure that the computers are operational.
4.3.2 Degree to Which Program Implemented as Intended
All of those interviewed agreed that the FNS program has been implemented as intended, although several respondents cited key challenges that have affected the implementation of the program.
4.3.3 Barriers to Program Implementation
While all of those interviewed agreed that the FNS program has been implemented as intended respondents cited key challenges that have affected the implementation of the program. Respondents mentioned that there remain persistent challenges to achieving connectivity. These challenges generally include:
- general lack of responsiveness from the schools;
- school staff turnover; and
- lack of ability/skills in the school and community.
The general lack of responsiveness in the schools was said to make on-going communication with the schools difficult. While high rates of staff turnover among teachers in the First Nations schools served by the program was mentioned as an impeding factor, nearly all of those interviewed also stated that a lack of skills and overall capacity among community members has made the targets difficult to reach.
While establishing effective partnerships is one possibility of overcoming certain challenges with the delivery of the program, respondents noted that partnering with other programs is often difficult. Potential relationships/partnerships were thought to be possible with other Industry Canada programs including the Broadband for Rural and Northern Development (BRAND) program and the Community Access Program (CAP) since each program deals with connectivity to some degree, however, several respondents noted that these programs typically operate independently from one another. Efforts have been made to promote the program and invite partnerships through participation in national Aboriginal roundtables that sought to determine current issues facing Canada's Aboriginal population.
Although the aforementioned challenges surfaced as barriers to program implementation, considerable variance was found in the degree to which each barrier affected RMOs, further demonstrating the regional differences.
To further explore barriers to program implementation, respondents were asked if three factors had impacted program delivery in their area. The three factors being: lack of qualified contractors/partners; lack of interest/ability; difficulties working with the dominant telecommunication carrier. The following chart details the responses pertaining to these challenges of program delivery.
As demonstrated in Chart 4-1, for half of the RMOs, finding qualified contractors had been either a barrier or a major barrier. When asked specifically about these problems the respondents stated that the skills of the contractors varied greatly and many contractors were found to be somewhat unresponsive to helping schools. When qualified contractors were not available from the community, many RMOs were forced to spend more of their budget on acquiring skilled contractors and sending them to the remote sites that required assistance. Since the RMOs generally established relationships with qualified contractors through trial and error, several respondents stated that they are in the process of building capacity at each school to eliminate the need for sub-contractors.
Through teaching the necessary skills to school officials and community members, RMOs would benefit from not having to hire separate contractors, however, all but one of the RMOs had experienced a lack of interest or ability of the school staff to assist with the FNS program. This reluctance has hampered training efforts. Several respondents noted that the school staff already has a full compliment of tasks, and additional resources or staff are necessary to properly maintain the FNS resources in each school.
In addition to the challenge of engaging school staff, nearly all of the RMOs also expressed problems working with telephone companies or other ISPs to provide service to the First Nations schools in their region. Several respondents stated that although relationships with dominant telecommunication carriers are a challenge, progress has been made and this barrier is becoming less of a factor in successful program delivery.
Respondents also mentioned that there are persistent challenges to achieving broadband connectivity due to geographical barriers in many areas, which in turn affect the potential to implement e-learning applications and multimedia opportunities.
4.3.4 Emerging Connectivity and Innovation Themes
The next set of questions addressed emerging connectivity and innovation themes pertaining to the FNS program. The potential of the available technology supplied by FNS was thought to allow for other learning applications that include the following:
- e-learning and other educational software;
- language programs and other cultural applications;
- distance education allowing people to remain in their community while pursuing further education; and
- multimedia applications including videoconferencing.
Respondents noted that most of the aforementioned innovative applications require broadband connectivity which is not currently available in most of the participating schools. It was also cautioned that many of the First Nations communities involved with FNS lack the skills and general capacity to adopting these applications at the current time. Many of the respondents noted that these opportunities could be implemented more rapidly if effective partnerships were created between the various government connectivity programs and among government departments including Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and Health Canada.
Even though RMO coordinators listed a number of impeding factors and a lack or resources affecting program delivery, there was consensus that they are reaching their objectives and continue to make progress with the First Nations school they serve. The RMO coordinators also mentioned many positive benefits to First Nations communities served by the FNS program as detailed in the next section.
4.4 Program Impact and Challenges
Respondents noted many positive elements and outcomes as a result of the FNS program. The most commonly cited response was the increase in connectivity that typically yields greater acceptance and use of the technology provided. Increased technology use resulted in students learning valuable skills that allow them to be better prepared for the job market while providing a forum for enhanced communication outside of their community. Other positive elements of the program include the building of linkages and increased communication between First Nations communities, allowing opportunities for cultural exchanges and further communication. Overall, the program was thought to have a strong impact on youth, providing beneficial training for students and teachers of the First Nations schools it serves, and promoting the use and understanding of ICT. The perceived importance of the FNS program in fostering connectedness among First Nations schools was evident with all of the RMO coordinators rating the program as extremely important.
The benefits of the program were numerous, and many of the respondents noted success stories of the students served by the program, however the RMO coordinators identified several constraints and challenges of the program. These challenges include the following:
- Sustainability of the program — a general lack of capacity among the First Nations communities and the challenges in forming partnerships to leverage funding and other resources was thought to represent a threat to the sustainability of the FNS program.
- Annual application process for each RMO — believed to represent additional paperwork and be a threat to the longevity of the program. A long-term funding solution was seen as more of a commitment to the program and as a method of securing the relationship built with the First Nations schools.
- Increased proportion of budget towards connectivity — the costs of connectivity have increased due to the increased number of schools on broadband connectivity although these additional costs were not met with a similar increase in the RMO's budget. Further, the RMOs stated that increased funding would allow for enhanced program delivery and closer relationships with the clients served by the program.
While not a specific gap of the FNS program, respondents acknowledged that schools that have a high proportion of Aboriginal students as well as First Nations schools located in Canada's territories have not been provided with the same opportunities as the schools served by the FNS program.
Although the RMOs are responsible for achieving the goals set forth in their Contribution Agreement, external factors affecting program delivery were noted. In some cases, the terrain of the region constituted a major barrier to providing broadband connectivity to First Nations schools. This dependence on the environment may skew the results of certain RMOs. Other external factors mentioned were a delay in implementing SuperNet in Alberta and a labour strike in Atlantic Canada directly affecting the ability of the RMO staff to meet their objectives. While similar issues may exist in other regions, the intention of listing these variables was to provide a realistic context for evaluating the effort of the RMOs.
- Date modified: