In remote areas of Canada, Indigenous communities are affected by both high drop-out rates and high youth suicide rates. According to Statistics Canada, Indigenous youth graduate high school at approximately half the rate of their non-Indigenous peers (First Nations 57%, and Inuit 40%). Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading causes of death for First Nations youth, and the suicide rate for Inuit youth is 11 times the Canadian national average.
Access to educational opportunities and mental health programs are limited in these remote communities, which exacerbates the dual crises.
That’s why Cisco founded Connected North. The program started with a goal to connect Inuit students at Aqsarniit Middle School in Iqaluit, Canada with a virtual science lab using Cisco collaboration technology, with an overall goal of bringing education and mental wellness programming to remote, underserved communities.
Cisco transferred leadership and growth of Connected North to TakingITGlobal in 2016 – a registered charity where the program could flourish with dedicated staff, financial resources and expertise. Today, Connected North has completed thousands of virtual sessions, and reaches 12,000 students across 55 schools in the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario.
“Schools often can’t afford to fly-in guest speakers they wish students could learn from,” said Waukomaun Pawis, an Ojibwe from Wasauksing First Nation and the Indigenous Program Coordinator for Connected North. “The technology is an amazing tool that allows us to connect with those students to bring them guest experts virtually through video conferencing.”
The sessions are far-reaching. “From virtual field trips, mentoring and future pathways discussions to introducing children to a range of career options, preventative mental health and wellness, teacher training, and cultural exchange with other schools across north and south, and so much more,” said Willa Black, Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Cisco Canada.
Connected North’s strength is in its ecosystem of partners, program supporters, content providers and service providers. Cisco Partner NTT stepped up to help install the latest set of Cisco equipment, based completely on volunteer hours from employees. Further, they are providing regular mentorship and support to Connected North’s Technical Success Coordinator.
NTT helped install their new unified communication system and set up Connected North with Active Directory. Now as the team grows and expands, it synchronizes automatically, simplifying the amount of work the technical team has to do internally to onboard new users.
Not to mention, the solution is also easy to maintain. With the support of NTT and the volunteer hours provided, Connected North is able to easily utilize the technology without needing an in-house team to manage, install, and oversee it. And, the ongoing mentorship from NTT ensures that the technology and platforms will continue to evolve to meet the needs of the growing program.
“What’s really great is that once you get the endpoint set up, we haven’t had a need to have a tech on site as the technology has proven reliable,” Pawis said. “Thanks to the support of our service provider partners we can remotely manage the unit if required.”
Between northern communities and endless possibilities, there’s a bridge.
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