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1. Introduction

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In this age of the information society, information and communications technologies (ICTs) have become everyday tools for living, working and learning. Nearly every facet of our economy and society has been touched by ICTs. ICTs in education have become a priority for governments, educators and businesses in order to equip students with the skills necessary to succeed in today’s technology-savvy workplace, and in an effort to close the digital divide.

Substantial investments have been made over the past several years to acquire hardware and software for schools, to connect elementary and secondary schools and their classrooms to the Internet, as well as to help educators improve their own ICT-related skills (Statistics Canada 2004a). However, reliable and timely measures of ICT infrastructure, access and use are still lacking in the education sector, as are measures of the outcomes and impacts of these investments.

The Information and Communications Technologies in Schools Survey (ICTSS) was designed to build a comprehensive database on the state of ICT infrastructure and access in elementary and secondary schools across Canada. From these timely and reliable baseline data, policy makers, education practitioners and researchers can begin to measure, monitor and assess the achievements towards program objectives for ICT in education. Developed by the Government of Canada’s SchoolNet Program, in cooperation with the SchoolNet National Advisory Board and Statistics Canada, the focus of the 2003/04 ICTSS was the measurement of ICT infrastructure and ICT reach.

Using data from the ICTSS, this study provides comprehensive national and provincial measures of ICT infrastructure and reach from nearly 6,700 elementary and secondary schools, which were weighted to represent the approximately 15,500 elementary and secondary schools in Canada. Key indicators of school connectedness are examined across a number of school variables, including instructional level, school size, location (urban or rural), and school administration (public or private).

Section two briefly profiles the elementary and secondary schools covered by the survey. Section three presents estimates of ICT infrastructure, including the number of computers in schools, the availability of computers for students, and computer operating systems, processing speeds and technical support time. In the fourth section, school connectivity is explored through the availability of Internet-connected computers, types of Internet connections, and school use of websites, intranets and videoconferencing technology. Access is examined in section five, including student access to software and online courses. Teacher training and professional development in the use of ICTs is addressed in section six, while section seven looks at the challenges to using ICTs in schools. Section eight summarizes and offers concluding remarks.

This article has been adapted from the report entitled “Connectivity and ICT integration in Canadian elementary and secondary schools: First results from the Information and Communications Technologies in Schools Survey, 2003-2004” (Statistics Canada 2004a), which first released the national survey results. Provincial estimates are included here to provide a more comprehensive picture of ICTs in Canadian schools.

ICT infrastructure includes the different components of ICT that make up the underlying foundation of a connected school, such as the number of computers and their characteristics.

ICT reach refers to the degree to which the ICT infrastructure can be accessed by teachers and students.


Box 1: SchoolNet Programs

The SchoolNet Programs are an integral part of the Government of Canada’s Connecting Canadians strategy to keep Canada among the leaders in connecting its citizens to the Internet. In partnership with the provincial and territorial governments, the education community and the private sector, SchoolNet promotes the effective use of ICTs in learning and aims to ready learners for the knowledge-based society. In 1999, with the collaboration and support of the provincial and territorial education sectors, Canada became the first nation to connect all willing public schools and libraries to the Internet (Industry Canada 2004a).

SchoolNet and the SchoolNet Advisory Board (SNAB) have expressed a desire for timely and reliable information to monitor connectivity in K-12 schools, to measure the integration and use of ICTs in education, and to evaluate the performance of existing programs. The ICTSS represents the first step in responding to this request.