Nfld. & Labrador

This lifelong educator has ideas about how to fix holes in N.L.'s back-to-school plan

An educator specializing in e-learning says kids don't necessarily have to be physically within a classroom to get the full benefit of an education. 

E-learning could help mitigate capacity and social distancing issues, says specialist

Maurice Barry, who specializes in e-learning. says the provincial government's back-to-school plan has some issues. (Gary Locke/CBC)

An educator specializing in e-learning says the provincial government is making three key assumptions in its back-to-school plan — each of which misses its mark.

Maurice Barry told CBC's Here & Now that the first problem area concerns socialization.

The province is assuming kids need to be physically present in schools for benefits of socialization, Barry said, and while that idea is grounded in solid evidence, times have changed and youth socialize more online now than they do in person.

"We know for a fact that our students require socialization, especially the teenagers. They wither without it," Barry told CBC News.

"School is not the only place our students socialize. They have significant online socialization, and they're a whole lot more used to that than any of us are through video games, through Discord servers, through Snapchat and so on."

Barry added that the stress level of returning to school right now could nullify any of the socialization benefits students will receive. 

No. 2: Classes aren't static spaces

Second, Barry said it appears there is an assumption that classrooms are not defined as social spaces, but said that notion is completely wrong.  

This fall most students are required to wear non-medical masks in common areas, such as hallways and buses, but not inside the classroom. 

Barry says the bus capacity issue could be fixed by blending in-class and online learning this year. (Colleen Connors/CBC )

"Students do not sit quietly in rows, they interact back and forth with each other and there's a lot of movement within the classroom," said Barry. 

"I cannot see any situation whereby we can maintain social distancing. At least a mask will help mitigate that."

What's more, Barry said most classrooms are not well ventilated, but the provincial government and the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District have said windows and doors will remain open when possible, and some classes and activities will be moved outside when weather permits. 

No. 3: Delaying virtual learning

Finally, Barry doesn't agree with online learning being so far down the line as the province's and school district's third scenario for school this year. in the event another COVID-19 outbreak forces schools to close as they did in March. 

Barry said distance education has been in Newfoundland and Labrador since 1988, it has proven to have worked, and students' grades reflect well on the option. 

He said he's not suggesting schools rely completely on e-learning this year, but that a hybrid of the two makes sense.

Schools open back up to students Sept. 9. (CBC)

"If we did a blended approach of e-learning and in-class, that means we don't have to have everybody in the building at the same time," Barry said. 

"That basically mitigates all of our issues. Social distancing is now down to a manageable level because we only have half the people, the busing is no longer a problem because we have lots of capacity on our buses now as well, and I'm absolutely convinced that learning outcomes will not be affected negatively."

Barry said the world has changed significantly since February, and putting Band-Aids on the school system isn't sustainable. He said schools need to move toward creative learning where blended e-learning is a part of the solution.

"I think that will maybe be something that will survive the next couple of crises," he said. 

Classes in the K-12 system resume on Sept. 9. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Anthony Germain

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