Patience urged as school board shifts to online learning
Last day of conventional classes was March 13
Students in Newfoundland and Labrador in ordinary circumstances would be heading back to school next Monday at the end of their Easter break, but the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping doors shut.
Online learning resources have been rolling out since the unofficial last day of school on March 13, said Tony Stack, Newfoundland and Labrador English School District CEO and director of education.
"We're constantly adding to our K-to-9 site.… That continues to be updated, and teachers have used this opportunity to prepare for the continuation of learning, operating more as learning coaches," Stack told CBC Radio's On The Go.
Instead of online instruction involving teachers in a virtual classroom, the NLESD has opted to provide learning material for parents and children to work with and review at home.
While some private schools were able to switch to online instruction only days after the pandemic ended the conventional school day, Stack said online instruction has its challenges, one of them being accessibility to the material.
"We realize that not everybody has the same level of access. We're working on that. We have an inventory of some of the devices, the hardware that we have in schools, and schools are looking at their population to see who might need that," he said.
"If you're dealing with a smaller population, and an affluent population, everyone might have all of the similar access."
Another issue, Stack said, is finding a way for students to get online who may not be able to. He said the district has reached out to the business community and service providers to see what can be done, but it might take some time.
In addition to those challenges, Stack said running a virtual classroom would be difficult as families may have a limited number of devices, and parents may be using them to work from home. Siblings may also be using them for similar learning.
"We realize parents can't be teachers, and teachers can't be on all the time with all of their classes in the way that a conventional school would be structured," he said.
While online learning isn't necessarily a new concept, the degree to which it is being used right now is.
Stack is asking for patience from parents while the district wades through the informal learning concept.
Furthermore, Stack said parents may be receiving different direction from different teachers. He said there are 64,000 students in the school district and about 5,000 teachers, and every case is going to be a little different.
On April 22, the NLESD will provide its evaluation for high school students for their grades up to March 13 as a placeholder.
Stack said it's looking less likely schools will resume by the end of June. However, he said, if schools do resume operation by that time, learning will continue and a new assessment will occur.
If schools don't resume by the end of June, Stack said grades up until March 13 will provide a starting point for students who may need to improve their mark to continue on to post-secondary education. Stack said there will be opportunities for students to do that.
For any parent who may have concerns about how online learning is being issued through the NLESD, Stack said the best way to alleviate that is to contact the particular school directly.
"Reach out to your teacher, reach out to your school administrator. We also have our program specialists and our full programs team working with teachers," he said.
With files from On The Go