With the shift to online learning for post-secondary institutions, having access to a computer and an internet connection is necessary for students. Through a partnership with Computers for Schools Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) is providing computer equipment to 50 students.
Justin Menard is the executive director of Computers for Schools Manitoba.
“Understanding both the technology needs of students and that some may not have means to obtain devices, we felt it natural to approach various groups who have reach within post-secondary institutions,” he says in an email to The Uniter.
“With student associations having such a far reach into the student (population), it makes it very easy to ensure students know of our program,” Menard says.
Those receiving the computers applied through an online form. They will each receive a computer, monitor, mouse, keyboard and all required cables.
Menard says one of his organization’s goals is to “combat the digital divide many (students) experience.”
“For those who don’t have the ability to access technology, it can be like running a race with your shoelaces tied together,” he says. “All students should have access and the means to excel in their education, regardless of barriers they may be facing.”
Numerous studies have found that significant inequities exist in terms of computer and internet access. The pandemic-induced shift to online learning has only exacerbated this problem.
Dagen Perrot, UWSA urban inner-city campus director, is very concerned about this problem and applauds the association’s partnership with Computers for Schools Manitoba.
“By offering someone a decent computer, it’s one piece of a much more complex puzzle,” he says.
“Anything we can do to make it easier for students to participate and to carve out a space in their home is important.”
He notes, however, that quality internet access is also important but much harder to address.
“There’s a push internationally to recognize internet (access) as a human right and something that needs to be just offered to people,” Perrot says, adding that he has been encouraging the UWSA to advocate for these issues.
Menard stresses that, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for computers has been at an “all-time high.”
“I wouldn’t say the pandemic has brought on (any) revelations ... it has magnified and brought to the forefront what we already knew: many simply don’t have access for various reasons, be (they) financial, geographical or something else,” he says.
“If individuals or businesses have any surplus or unwanted devices, they are urged to visit us online or contact our office, so we can continue to bridge the digital divide,” Menard says.
Computers for Schools Manitoba’s website is c4smb.ca.