British Columbia

As teachers reinvent teaching and parents supervise schooling, fears grow of students falling through cracks

As teachers scramble to reinvent teaching, and parents and guardians supervise schooling, fears are growing that some students are falling through gaps in education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Educators, guardians grapple with challenges of 'emergency remote teaching' during COVID-19 pandemic

In-class instruction in B.C. schools was halted March 17, just as spring break began, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Educators have since been trying to figure out how to best offer online learning. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The lessons Cindy Dalglish has received from the teachers of her two children are optional, but she doesn't treat them that way.

Dalglish, an education advocate from Surrey, B.C., is trying to keep the lives of her children, aged seven and 12, as normal as possible at a time when everything is unusual — and that means maintaining a learning schedule.

"Trying to keep on top of the technology has been a challenge," she said.

"We're lucky because we have computers in our house, but I think of other families that don't have computers at home."

Access to technology is one of many issues school districts have been scrambling to address since the province suspended in-class instruction last month due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Surrey Teachers' Association president Matt Westphal says it's a massive job to address each student's needs, when they can range from providing meals to assistance with university applications. 

"Some teachers literally have hundreds of students, and they're grappling with how they're going to reinvent their teaching practice, because they'll have to do things entirely differently," he said.

"This is emergency remote teaching."

Cindy Dalglish is helping her two children learn at home while in-class instruction is suspended in B.C. (Denis Dossman/CBC)

Dalglish's children are both in French immersion and have been meeting their teachers online to practise their language skills. They're also learning new talents at home.

"Today, we're making cream puffs," Dalglish said. "We're getting creative."

'Be patient'

Westphal says parents' expectations are as wide-ranging as the needs of students. Some expect lessons to carry on as if nothing has changed and others want their children to take the remainder of the year off.

"We don't hear many complaints saying we're not doing enough," he said.

"If anything, we're hearing people say it's too much and it's actually very overwhelming."

He says teachers are mindful that every child's home-learning environment is different, especially when many people are concerned about childcare or have lost their jobs.

"Please be patient because this is not school as usual," Westphal said.

"Please don't expect everything to be the same as it was and also please be honest with teachers about what you can and cannot do."

Around 2,000 schools have been shut down in B.C. by the COVID-19 crisis, leaving more than half a million students without in-class instruction. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Technology gap

Mary-Em Waddington, executive director of the B.C. Technology for Learning Society, says she's concerned about how low-income families will cope with online learning.

The province says some school districts and independent schools will loan out equipment, such as computers, but Waddington fears many students will fall through the cracks.

"This is reinforcing the whole reality that so many families don't have access to technology and don't have access to WiFi in their homes," said Waddington, a mother of two.

"The digital divide is still very much alive."

When things get back to normal, Waddington hopes there will be a serious discussion about access to technology in B.C.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at  

About the Author

Jesse Johnston worked in private radio from 2004 to 2014 in Vancouver, Red Deer and Calgary. He spent the next five years based out of Surrey (his hometown) as CBC's South of the Fraser reporter until he joined the Impact Team in 2019. Jesse is a two-time recipient of the RTDNA Dave Rogers Award for Best Short Radio Feature. He loves radio, running and dogs. He also loves the Detroit Lions, but if you follow him on Twitter, you already knew that. @Jesse_Johnston


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