Calgary

Online learning top priority for Calgary school boards after classes cancelled due to COVID-19

The Calgary Board of Education says its top priority is gearing up to offer learning online, especially for high school students, now that the province has asked schools to cancel all K-12 classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alberta education minister not committed to that option yet

Calgary Board of Education chair Marilyn Dennis, speaking at a news conference on Monday, says the board's top priority is getting ready to offer learning online, especially for high school students. (CBC)

The Calgary Board of Education says its top priority is gearing up to offer learning online, especially for students in high school, now that the province has cancelled all K-12 classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alberta's education minister says online learning for students is an option that's being looked at for the entire province, but it needs to be equitable, no matter where the students are.

At a news conference Monday, CBE chair Marilyn Dennis said the school district is working diligently to put plans in place to support student learning, as well as getting positive messaging to students.

"This is a rapidly evolving situation and we don't know exactly what it means for classes to be cancelled indefinitely," Dennis said.

"We will work to support our students regardless of how long it takes to get them back in our schools."

The province announced Sunday that classes in all K-12 schools in Alberta have been cancelled and child-care centres have been closed indefinitely due to the ongoing COVID-19 cases.

Dennis said that despite class cancellations, teachers are at school and working diligently to put plans in place to support student learning.

Calgary school boards prep online courses

Joanne Pitman, superintendent of school improvement for the CBE, said online resources for students are being prepared and that high school students, particularly those in Grade 12, are the main priority for having programs readily available.

Joanne Pitman, superintendent of school improvement for the CBE, says they understand that providing online resources is not the only priority. (CBC)

"We want to ensure that our Grade 12 students have the necessary credentials to be able to pursue post-secondary. We have prioritized our high school programming first and we'll be working through communication again," she said.

Pitman added that while the schools have lots of online resources available, the CBE acknowledges the difficulties and that students will need to prepare for school looking a lot different in the near future.

"This is going to be a significant challenge to pretend that all elements of delivery of continuity of education will remain of the same quality and design. Simply replacing what is happening in a classroom physically is not realistic and one that we are going to need to grapple with," she said.

She said the CBE will also be looking to build transition supports and best practices for communicating during these uncertain times.

At the Calgary Catholic School District, Bryan Szumlas, the chief superintendent, said it's also working on bolstering online education but a lot is still unknown.

He said Calgary Catholic teachers are being asked to make sure they have a contact list for all of the students that they work with, as well as planning their daily lessons. 

"It's still too early in the process to let everyone know the path forward and what that looks like but we are working on it."

Chris Usih, chief superintendent of schools for the CBE, said the school district is working closely with the province and other school jurisdictions.

He said they have a team of individuals who have been working for weeks on online readiness and that there is a willingness to collaborate with other jurisdictions on best delivery.

"I think we recognize that this is the first day of what is a very unique experience for our students and our families," he said.

Chief superintendent Chris Usih says the CBE is working closely with the province and other school jurisdictions. (CBC)

"As we move along, we'll adjust based on what's happening in our district here in Calgary but also across the province."

Education minister not committed to online courses

The province said that while online learning for students is definitely an option that's on the table, it's not something the government is committed to yet.

"The biggest thing is we want to make sure that it's an equitable level of education that every kid gets. We don't want those that have better access to only get it because they're in downtown Calgary," said Colin Aitchison on behalf of Alberta Education minister Adriana LaGrange.

Online distance learning has grown in recent years across the province, and LaGrange said 32 jurisdictions have it readily available.

"We will be in contact with all of them. We also have the Alberta Distance Learning Centre as well," she said.

"We have gathered all the superintendents together on teleconferences and we are developing next steps so that we can provide a co-ordinated approach right across the province on how we can move forward," said LaGrange. 

With files from the CBC's Lucie Edwardson

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