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5. Access to computers and the Internet

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The belief that the educational use of computers and the Internet may provide an enriched learning environment for students, as well as a useful pedagogical resource for teachers is generally widespread. Whether it is the location of computers or the availability of educational software and the Internet, access to ICTs is critical.

Overall, about 45% of the computers in elementary and secondary schools in Canada were located in computer labs, followed closely by classrooms (41%). Libraries and other locations accounted for the remaining 14%. These proportions were generally the same for Internet-connected computers, with 47% located in computer labs, 39% in classrooms and 14% in libraries and other areas. More than half (55%) of secondary school computers were located in computer labs, while 51% of elementary school computers were located in classrooms. This is not surprising since in elementary schools, students are generally taught in the same classroom, while secondary students tend to move from one classroom to another for different courses.

In Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, a higher proportion of school computers were located in classrooms than in computer labs (Table 10). Schools in Quebec had the lowest proportion of computers in libraries. In fact, schools in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Quebec and the Northwest Territories had a slightly higher proportion of computers in other locations (hallways and other open spaces), than in libraries.

5.1 Student access to the Internet

In general, students have access to the Internet at school. However, unless the Internet is also accessible at home or in some other public location, completing homework activities that require the use of the Internet or specialized educational software can be problematic. Making the Internet accessible outside of regular school hours allows students who may not otherwise have access to this technology to use this resource for school-related activities. In 2003/04, nearly 61% of school principals reported giving their students frequent access to Internet-connected computers during school but outside of instructional hours (i.e. lunch hours or breaks). This practice was most common among secondary schools, where students are generally expected to complete some work on their own outside of class time.

Schools in Prince Edward Island (72%), Newfoundland and Labrador (71%), Saskatchewan (69%) and the Yukon (68%) were most likely to have Internet-connected computers available for students during school but outside of instructional hours (Chart 9).

About 42% of schools provided frequent access to Internet-connected computers before and/or after school, while only 3% of schools allowed student access to the Internet on weekends. Schools in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador (60%), as well as the Yukon (57%) were most likely to provide Internet access before/after school. Weekend access was more prevalent in small schools (5%), as well as schools in New Brunswick (12%).

Chart 9
Percentage of schools providing students with frequent access to Internet-connected computers outside instructional hours by province and territory, 2003/04

Chart 9 Percentage of schools providing students with frequent access to Internet-connected computers outside instructional hours by province and territory, 2003/04

Note: Frequent access includes Internet-connected computers that were often to always available outside instructional hours.

* Estimates for ‘frequent access on weekends’ suppressed to meet confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act.

5.2 Student access to software

Most elementary and secondary school students had access to a number of software applications, including word processing, Internet browsers, educational drill and practice programs, spreadsheet and database programs, and presentation software. In addition, the majority of secondary schools provided students with access to desktop publishing software (88%) and graphic programs (84%). It comes as no surprise that secondary and large schools generally provided students with access to a wider range of software applications, compared to elementary and small schools.

Across the provinces and territories, student access to software varied only slightly. Schools in some provinces and territories were less likely to use presentation software, in particular Prince Edward Island the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and British Columbia, while spreadsheet and database, desktop publishing and graphic programs were less common in Quebec and Nunavut schools (Table 11). The proportion of schools offering desktop publishing software was highest in the Yukon and Prince Edward Island, while other graphic programs were most accessible to students in the Yukon and Ontario.

Although e-mail is one of the most common uses of the Internet today, and 63% of principals reported that their students had access to e-mail software, the majority of students were not provided with an e-mail account by the school. Just over three-quarters of schools reported providing e-mail accounts to fewer than 25% of their students. Regardless of whether or not the school provided e-mail accounts, students may still have had access to Internet e-mail software – such as Hotmail – to access personal e-mail accounts. Secondary schools were most likely to provide more than three-quarters of students with e-mail accounts, as were schools in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

By contrast, 84% of principals reported that more than threequarters of their teachers were provided with e-mail accounts by either the school or the school board. This was most common in public schools (88%), while it was the case for only 49% of private schools. The share of schools that provided e-mail accounts to more than 75% of teachers also varied across the country – from 68% in Quebec to nearly all schools in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and the Yukon. Teacher use of e-mail is important for corresponding with other teachers and school administrators, while school boards may use e-mail as a form of communicating messages, notices, newsletters or announcements with staff or parent associations.

5.3 Student access to online courses

Online courses can be an effective alternative to traditional teaching methods if certain courses are not available to students during class time. Some online courses, for example, may be offered to prepare students for a particular school program, such as second language immersion, university or college. Overall, 14% of schools reported having students participating in online courses. This option would be most useful where certain prerequisite courses for university or college programs are not available at the school: 36% of secondary schools had students participating in online courses, compared with only 3% of elementary schools. Similarly, schools in rural or remote areas may use online courses more frequently, particularly for very specific subject areas that may not be readily available to students in class. Nearly 40% of rural secondary schools offered online courses, compared to 35% of their urban counterparts.

Online courses were used most frequently in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, where about 42% of schools had participating students (Chart 10). Schools in Newfoundland and Labrador also had a high proportion of students studying online (37%). This is largely due to the relatively higher number of rural or remote areas in these regions of the country.

Chart 10
Percentage of schools whose students participated in online courses by province and territory, 2003/04

Chart 10 Percentage of schools whose students participated in online courses by province and territory, 2003/04

Note: Estimates for Prince Edward Island and Nunavut are suppressed to meet confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act.

The topic of access to the Internet is frequently tied to use of the Internet. Although use was not the focus of the 2003/04 ICTSS, the survey did ask principals about their school plans and policies for ICT use. Nearly 9 out of 10 schools (88%) reported having a policy in place for appropriate use of ICT by students. All principals in the Yukon reported that their schools had an ICT use-policy for students, followed closely by Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (95%), as well as Saskatchewan and Alberta (94%). Nunavut and Quebec had the lowest proportions of schools with such a policy (Table 12).