"A Study of the Learning Preferences of Four Remote Communities in Northern Alberta"
Fahy, Patrick J.
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Abstract The western Canadian province of Alberta has used the proceeds from exploitaiton of its extraordinary natural resources to provide a range of post-secondary training and education opportunities to residents. While these provisions appear comprehensive, this study examines how well they actually suit the express needs of the residents of remote, primarily Aboriginal, areas of the province. The literature shows that, while Aboriginals are underrepresented in Canada in university enrolments, they are no longer underrepresented in college or other institutions, suggesting that gains have been made in some aspects of Aboriginal educational and training participation. Further, when Aboriginals (especially males) complete advanced training, Statistics Canada reports they are highly successful in employment and income. Access is the privotal issue, however: leaving the local community to attend training programs elsewhere is often disruptive and unsuccessful. This study was conducted as part of Athabasca University’s Learning Communities Project, intended to provide information about the views of northern Alberta residents concerning their present post-secondary training and education opportunities. The study addresses a gap in such information in Canada, in comparison with other OECD countries. The study is based on input from 165 individuals, through written surveys (some completed independently online, others completed by the researchers in exchanges with the respondents), interviews, discussions, and observations, conducted with fulltime or parttime residents of the study communities, during 2007 and 2008. The four northern Alberta communities studied were Wabasca, Fox Lake, Ft. McKay (sometimes MacKay), and Ft. Chipewyan, totaling just over 6,000 residents. While respondents had mixed backgrounds in relation to training and education, consensus emerged on several points: training in the north must be flexible to be realistic; the negative emotional and economic impacts on families and individuals when they are forced to leave the local community to take training are enormous; alternatives such as distance education may be acceptable to and technologically feasible for many, depending upon the support provided; and certain subjects (especially business-related courses, pre-employment preparation such as safety and computer skills, trades training, and basic skills upgrading programs in essential skills such as math, English, writing, and life skills) are of broad interest. The LCP was cautioned to avoid mistakes made by others in relation to northern learners and their local realities: not considering students’ preferences for programming; employing inappropriate technologies; failing to provide adequate orientation and support to the learning system; and failure to use existing, proven delivery models.