On August 19, 2010 the Sunchild E-Learning Centre celebrated its tenth year of delivering quality distance education to Aboriginal learners throughout Alberta and the NWT. The Sunchild E-learning Centre started when, “[i]n 1999, members of the Sunchild First Nation considered the lack of education in their community and decided alternative methods were needed to reach Aboriginal students”. Members of Sunchild First Nation determined that Aboriginal learners in remote and rural communities, while committed to pursuing formal education, need flexible school schedules because these learners, many of whom are adults, also juggle a number of family and community obligations. Sunchild E-Learning developed a flexible virtual classroom environment as a response to these identified needs. While technology facilitates the delivery of the Sunchild E-Learning program, the program’s success lies squarely in the student-centered community-based Sunchild model of education. Technologies may come and go, but the need for community-based, student-centered approaches remain consistent.
The Sunchild E-Learning Centre provides distance education in over 25 reserve communities and urban settings in Alberta and the NWT. While the delivery of course content is flexible, class times are set and students log in to the virtual classroom where they can communicate with the teacher via text messaging or microphone. The virtual classrooms are accessed through computers located in community centres or schoolhouses where there are “Key Teachers” or mentors available to assist them. According to the Centre’s website: “Iin most cases, students work from a classroom environment where a Key Teacher addresses technical concerns and ensures student participation”. The benefit is that students can remain in their communities while achieving their educational goals. The result of this flexible approach to learning is that Sunchild boasts an overall course completion rate of greater than 70%. Over the last two years the Sunchild E-learning program has been responsible for more than 50% of all on-reserve First Nations students who graduated in the province of Alberta.
On top of celebrating ten years of successful course delivery, Sunchild E-Learning Centre and DeVry Institute of Technology recently agreed that Sunchild E-Learning students will have (limited) tuition free access to DeVry’s courses through the Passport2College program. As the CEO of Sunchild, Martin Sacher notes: “The program is the perfect fit for our students because it gives them a tuition-free opportunity to get a head start on higher education before they even graduate high school” (DeVry Institute of Technology, 2010, para 2).
Click here to find Sunchild First Nation on Google Maps.