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HIGHLIGHTS

Access to educators worldwide

High-speed satellite broadband connectivity

Individual laptops connected to e-learning tools and programs from a range of educational sources

BRINGING INNOVATION AND
COLLABORATION TO REMOTE COMMUNITIES

For many students looking to take their first educational step toward a bright future, a myriad of options is typically available to them within a few hours’ drive of their local neighbourhoods. In many remote communities, however, where cellphone reception and Internet connectivity are basic and often unreliable, students must often leave the strong social bonds of family and community to travel great distances to seek further education. Now, through a unique and innovative Aecon-led partnership, one remote Indigenous community has successfully opened the doors of educational opportunity …by closing the distance on education.

A first of its kind, the Neskantaga Training Centre (NTC) in the Matawa First Nation community of Neskantaga, Ontario sits on a raised piece of land overlooking an inspiring view of Attawapiskat Lake. No more than a five minute walk from most points in the 400 resident community, the NTC is a multi-purpose facility built to educate and bring remote communities even closer together. It houses a sizable classroom area, a fully-functional kitchen, washroom, office space and enough technology to bring curriculum from around Canada straight to the minds of Indigenous students.

“Because it’s something completely different than anything they’ve seen before, the community has been amazed at how high-tech the training centre really is,” says Bill Clarke, Aecon’s Vice President of Indigenous Affairs and inventor of the remote training centre concept. “When I came up with the idea, I knew it had to be something effective and impactful. The youth growing up in Neskantaga haven’t been exposed to this type of technology, so you can understand how overwhelming it might be to go from using a landline telephone to having a real-time conversation with someone on a flat screen television.”

Acting as the catalyst, Clarke began searching his contacts list for potential partners. The first step was to reach out to Cisco Systems to supply all of the training centre’s networking equipment. Next, Clarke drummed up excitement at Bell Canada, which provided the broadband connectivity required to connect the training centre to the digital world. Together, with Aecon as constructor, the triumvirate partnership developed a cost-effective budget that could be presented to the provincial government for funding. Kiikenomaga Kikenjigewen Employment and Training (KKETS) – an organization aimed at helping Matawa First Nation members develop their skills through education and training – completed the necessary applications to secure the funding through the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU). Once the funding was granted, the partnership set the project in motion.

As pieces began falling into place, Clarke realized that a building of modular construction, packaged flat like an IKEA product, would be much easier to transport in a small plane than would a full-sized, pre-constructed trailer. Aecon reached out to ATCO Structures and Logistics for the creation of a workable design for a modularized facility. After the project design was confirmed, the site was selected and approved by Chief Peter Moonias and his council. Working together, the partnership began building the necessary components (i.e., insulated wall panels averaging four feet wide, 10 feet high and 10 inches thick) and packaging them for shipment to Neskantaga via cargo plane.

“The logistics involved with building this project were extremely challenging given how remote Neskantaga is,” notes Justin French, Aecon Programs Director, who is credited for quarterbacking the coordination among the partners. “From designing a building that could be transported by cargo plane to labour logistics, this project kept everyone involved on their toes. We’re really happy with the end product though. It was such a rewarding experience to see the training centre in operation a month after we turned it over. I feel very privileged to have been a part of such an important Aecon initiative.”

Outfitted with state-of-the-art technology, including a 70-inch Smart Board, a 70-inch LED HDTV, high-speed satellite broadband connectivity as well as individual laptops, students are connected to a world where higher learning is at their fingertips. The NTC directly connects to e-learning tools and programs from various endpoints to offer a wide variety of curriculum including access to secondary and post-secondary institutions, safety training courses, trades and technical certifications.

“Our educational offerings support Aecon’s 360° Sustainability Strategy by offering comprehensive training and education, which in turn creates meaningful employment opportunities within or close to their community,” notes Clarke. “The strategy will help build self-confidence through achievement and skill development to give youth the ability to successfully make the transition to an institute of higher learning with a much greater success rate. Overall, this training centre is a tool providing an opportunity for a better future, community development and long-term sustainability in remote communities.”

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