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A new Internet benefit for rural schools

BRANDON — Internet access can't improve fast enough for rural school divisions across Manitoba, said Rolling River School Division Supt. Reg Klassen.

Due to isolation and long distances, some rural schools still have "very poor" Internet connectivity, Klassen said. But installing high-speed fibre-optic lines to a number of the division's schools on the division's own dime has made a "significant difference."

Legislative amendments will now allow school divisions to enter into cost-sharing agreements to build or enhance Internet services in schools, Education and Advanced Learning Minister James Allum recently announced.

"This legislation will facilitate connecting schools all across the province to the Internet, especially in rural Manitoba, ensuring school divisions can access information, training and knowledge available on the web," Allum said in a press release.

Legislative amendments will give the Department of Education and Advanced Learning the authority to review and approve proposals from school divisions to enter cost-sharing partnerships. The news release also stated school boards would first consider partnering with another local organization, such as another school division or a municipality, over a partnership with a local private-sector organization.

"Internet access is essential for schools to help meet the learning needs of students," Manitoba School Boards Association president Floyd Martens stated in the same media release. "This is a positive step that has the potential to be particularly beneficial in school divisions with limited means where partnerships will help address this need."

These amendments won't change Brandon School Division's partnership with Westman Communications Group, the division's communications and technology specialist said.

Klassen said these changes don't "completely solve the problem. This is only one small step in making it a little easier for divisions financially," he said. "What it means is that some more schools are going to get connected."

He said a lot of schools "have done their own thing to get their school connected," including going wireless, which Klassen said has its limitations.

—Brandon Sun

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