Newfoundland and Waterford
schools link over the Net
By Dick Grogan
On the Canadian island of Newfoundland, one-third as big again as Ireland, there are schoolchildren wrestling with strange expressions, such as "How's she cutting?", and keeping records of the daily weather in Co Waterford.
Back in Waterford, pupils are reaching electronically across the Atlantic to study the history and place-names of the island to which many thousands of their ancestors emigrated more than two centuries ago, bringing with them an ancient game that would evolve into the modern sport of ice hockey.
The Premier of Newfoundland, Mr Brian Tobin, recently spoke directly to an audience in Newtown School hall in Waterford and told them that by the year 1800 Irish settlers made up about half of the population of Newfoundland. He was speaking on a live Internet relay set up to mark a twinning scheme between schools on both islands for the purpose of developing joint online educational projects.
Seven schools in Waterford city and county are involved in the link-up with equivalent schools in the region of St John's, the capital of Newfoundland. They will be using the new information technologies to share ideas and experience, communicate with "key-pals", the keyboard equivalent of pen-pals, and work together on projects in poetry, English literature and their respective cultural traditions.
Newfoundland and neighbouring Labrador are leaders in distance learning and information technologies. The Stellar Schools Project in Newfoundland has fostered a sophisticated link-up between many of the 400 schools on the island, and every Newfoundland school has at least one computer connected to the Internet.
The seven Waterford Stellar Schools have been connected into the network in the first expansion of the project outside Newfoundland, though the Irish schools depend on normal phone lines which have a much slower data-transfer capacity than the high-speed cable modems used in Newfoundland.
However, the Waterford schools have already begun to set up their online home pages. CBS, Tramore, for example, is putting together a "virtual art gallery", scanning into it visual and verbal information on all the arts activity undertaken in the school.
Ballygunner National School in Waterford has made available a compendium of local and colloquial Irish expressions. Ballyduff National School, Kilmeaden, includes "Our Confirmation Photo, 1998".
Waterford was at the forefront of the early Irish links with Newfoundland. In the 16th century, up to 200 sailing ships a year travelled from the port of Waterford to fish on the Grand Banks off the east coast of Canada, remaining in the area for months on end.
This developed, especially in Famine times, into a large-scale flow of young emigrants to Newfoundland. Up to 85 per cent of the Irish settlers there came from within a 30-mile radius of Waterford.
The Mayor of Waterford, Cllr Tom Cunningham, described the new Internet project as "reaching into the past to chart a course for the future", noting that modern Irish youth are travelling by the information superhighway rather than by sailing boat, and that the harvest is information and ideas rather than fish.
The Stellar Schools Project is supported by Stemnet, an educational project based in the Memorial University of Newfoundland, and by Cable Atlantic, a cable service provider. On the Irish side, the project is assisted by WIRE'D, a sub-committee set up by Waterford Chamber of Commerce to promote the introduction of the information age to the area.