The federal government is reviewing the national program through which it helps connect Canadian schools to the Internet and make better use of technology.

Industry Canada recently increased the amount of money awarded to various institutions under SchoolNet,

adding 36 schools in a variety of provinces to its Network of Innovative Schools. Under the program, winning schools each receive up to $10,000 to support their IT projects and their participation in research and mentoring activities during the school year.

SchoolNet, which has a total budget of $15 million under the February 2003 budget, began in the mid-1990s as a project to provide all Canadian schools with Internet access by 1999. Its mandate has since been expanded to include the creation of e-learning content.

SchoolNet director Pierre Gendron said a review would help the government determine both how much money is allocated to SchoolNet and how the program is managed.

“”We need to come up with our final analysis before next March, obviously,”” he said. “”I think we’re going to do well. We’ve had a tremendous level of success, whether it’s the Network of Innovative Schools, our Grassroots program or Computers For Schools.””

This year more than 200 proposals were submitted to the committee of educators, industry association members and researchers who allocate the funding according to a set of SchoolNet guidelines, Gendron said. With the most recent funding announcements, 150 schools are connected under the Network For Innovative Schools.

Derek Rakowski, a Grade 5 and 6 teacher at Riverbend Elementary School in Calgary, said his institution will put the money towards the purchase of laptops and equipment to make digital films. Already, he said, the school’s use of IT has allowed Riverbend to change the traditional pen-and-ink way homework is prepared and submitted.

“”A lot of our students are so proficient with PowerPoint that they’re now using it and e-mailing their work to school, and we’re using that as a way to present their learning,”” he said.

Though many schools use the funding to acquire equipment, others may allocate it towards professional development activities for staff, according to Gendron.

“”It’s probably sometimes used to buy pizza for people who have worked long hours,”” he said. “”We really leave it up to schools to decide how to use the money to integrate the technology.””

Once the funding has been awarded, however, a pair of national co-ordinators work with each school to provide feedback and support, and it is to these co-ordinators that the schools submit an annual report of their progress.

“”There’s a follow-up before all the money is received by the schools,”” Gendron said. “”I think it’s a pretty good system.””

Rakowski said increased use of IT has changed both the way work is assigned and how it is evaluated. There is particularly more student self-evaluation and peer evaluation, he said.

“”Teachers are still covering curriculum, but by connecting with the Internet through this technology, students have a lot more choice and input into the direction their work will go. It’s not completely teacher-led.””

Through another branch of the program, First Nations SchoolNet, Industry Canada doled out $7.5 million to allow native schools more access to the Internet and IT equipment.

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