Paul, R. (2012) Contact North: A Case Study in Public Policy Sudbury ON: Contact North
From the report:
In the April 22, 1986 Speech from the Throne, the Ontario Government of Premier David Peterson announced a “major project in Northern Ontario…to expand the use of new technologies in delivering distance education to remote communities. This project will also build on the clear potential for developing these technologies locally.”……
Twenty-five years later, there is no question that the resulting network, Contact North l Contact Nord, has been a resounding success from many points of view. It has outlasted almost all other such ventures across Canada and beyond. It has served the needs of thousands of Ontarians living in remote areas and helped them gain credentials and qualifications that have enriched their lives and gave them new employment opportunities.
The report, written by Ross Paul, a former President of the University of Windsor and Laurentian University, is an in-depth case study, based on interviews with key players and stakeholders in Contact North’s development. It attempts to answer the following questions:
- Why has Contact North persisted throughout such changing times?
- What are its main successes and how were they achieved? What could have been done better?
- What have we learned about public policy development and implementation in its wake?
- What are the key lessons that are most relevant today?
To answer the questions the report provides 10 lessons under the following headings:
- Sometimes it really pays for governments to just get on with it
- Following a true partnership model
- The importance of having a neutral co-ordinating body
- The critical importance of student support whatever the technology
- Principles of effective governance
- Ensuring community buy-in and ownership
- The quality of the student experience
- The special needs of First Nations communities
- Technology’s the answer – but what is the question?
- Synchronous and asynchronous learning.
Although Contact North is a unique organization set up to meet unique challenges, the report provides some very interesting lessons for public policy in distance education.
The other intangible not mentioned directly by Ross Paul is the outstanding leadership and committed staff and volunteers it has had over the 25 years.
Declaration of interest: I am a part-time employee of Contact North.