N.L. students staying home this September, as CNA, MUN online — and K-12 may follow suit

The province's two major post-secondary institutions will continue to offer most programming online for the fall, and the premier says the K-12 system might too.

Premier says lessons can be learned from CNA and MUN decisions

An empty CNA campus on Prince Philip Drive in St. John's won't see activity any time soon, as the college will offer fall programming online like Memorial University. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

The province's two major post-secondary institutions will continue to offer most programming online through the fall, and the K-12 system may follow suit.

The College of the North Atlantic has released its calendar for the 2020-21 academic year, and the majority of courses starting in September will either be fully or partially delivered online. 

A plan for some programs, like commercial driving, will be determined later and practical components of others, like hairstyling, will be delivered in person in light of public health measures to combat the spread of COVID-19.

I think we can see where this is going.- Dwight Ball

On Wednesday the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District said while it continues to strengthen ongoing learning at home, "the focus is also on how the delivery of K-12 education might look in September" as it's unclear what will happen with COVID-19. 

The district said it's "working with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development on various scenarios to resume formal instruction in the fall, however that might look, because we cannot know for certain what course the COVID-19 virus will take in the next several months." 

When asked how the K-12 school system will operate during the next school year, Premier Dwight Ball said there are some lessons to be learned from Memorial University, which decided Tuesday to deliver the majority of its fall semester courses remotely.

"We're actually planning now for … options and different scenarios for September, and I think the [education] minister will be in a position to make an announcement on that very soon," Ball said Wednesday. 

"I think we can see where this is going, and with the unknown of what September will look like in the K-12 system it's important we get those plans in place."

Institutions closed buildings and kept students home across the province as the COVID-19 pandemic hit Newfoundland and Labrador in March. 

'Crappy' internet big issue

One of the barriers to offering remote education is that not all students have equal access to technology.

The school district has gathered computers and tablets and internet access to keep some students connected. However, its online learning operations have been criticized, particularly in comparison to those of the province's French school board. It has opened registration for its 2020-21 kinderstart/kindergarten programs, and the Conseil scolaire francophone provincial de Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador has done the same. 

Even with devices, officials, educators and students continue to highlight the issue of slow and practically non-existent internet connection in more rural parts of the province. 

"I have really crappy Labrador internet so it's gonna be really interesting to see how this all plays out," MUN student Amelia Tracy told CBC News from her home in Forteau.

Memorial University student Amelia Tracy says the university's switch to online lectures during the COVID-19 pandemic has been great, but her internet connection at home in Labrador is not. (CBC)

She said the internet often freezes while her professor is giving lectures, and she knows there are plenty of students at all levels who don't have computer or internet access at home. 

Tracy is in her second year of biology and neuroscience majors, and moved back to Labrador from St. John's when the university cancelled in-person learning in March. She's used to roughly 20 hours a week of in-person lab time for her science degree.

"There's no way to, you know, teach practical skills effectively, in my opinion, without actually being there to do the hands-on work," she said.

"So that's my biggest concern with starting my courses in the fall, is trying to find some sort of balance between learning the practical skills without actually being in the setting."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Carolyn Stokes