Nova Scotia

COVID-19 means plan for N.S. students will constantly evolve, NSTU says

As Nova Scotia's Department of Education moves closer to a plan for students in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the head of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union said people need to be prepared to deal with a plan that is constantly evolving.

'We simply can't copy and paste what we would do in classrooms to people working from home,' says president

The Nova Scotia government is working with teachers, principals and unions on the development of a plan that supports students and their families to continue learning at home, including those without access to internet or technology. (Juliya Shangarey/Shutterstock)

As the Department of Education moves closer to a plan for students in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the head of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union says people need to be prepared to deal with something that is constantly evolving.

Schools and daycares in the province are closed until April 3, but that is likely to be extended.

"Whatever approach lands is really going to be a starting point and then we'll build from there," said Paul Wozney, NSTU president. "In our profession, it's simply not possible under these circumstances and we're all going to have to adjust as it goes.

"We simply can't copy and paste what we would do in classrooms to people working from home."

Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill told CBC's Mainstreet he does have a plan for continued learning that assumes the school year "is going to be prolonged."

Churchill said he expects to have a formal announcement on the school plan next week. He said he's waiting to hear from public health for their direction.

Schools are scheduled to reopen April 6, but Churchill said it will likely later than that before students are back in the classroom.

Education Minister Zach Churchill said he expects to have a school plan announced next week. (CBC)

Churchill said the province has several online tools that can be expanded for distance learning.

The department is working with public health to figure out if there are safe ways to deliver course materials for students who can't get online.

"One of the conversations we've been having with my counterparts across the country is the potential use of radio where internet might not be available," Churchill said.

Digital divide

Wozney said he expects the plan about supporting instruction at home will drop next week. But he said there are already worries around the digital divide in Nova Scotia.

The 2019 Communications Monitoring Report shows that nearly a quarter of households in the province do not have broadband access as of 2017.

Last week, the province announced $15 million for internet providers to complete rural internet projects.

Wozney said when it comes to internet access and devices to do that, Grade 12 students are front of mind.

Paul Wozney is president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. (CBC)

He said teachers and some Grade 12 students were able to go into schools — by appointment to reduce physical interaction — to collect items necessary to work from home.

He said students were able to borrow textbooks, graphing calculators and in some cases laptops or Chromebooks.

"The priority is making sure graduating students have access to that stuff first," he said.

Wozney said there are also conversations already happening about how Grade 12 students will be assessed for the year, but no decisions have been made.

Grade 12 students want answers

Grade 12 students Makye Clayton and Jessica Ambrose told CBC's Mainstreet they aren't enjoying the unscheduled time off.

"No one really knows what's going on. And it's super unfortunate because we're all looking for a bit of an answer and some clarity," said Ambrose, who goes to Charles P. Allen High School in Bedford, N.S.

She's applied to Dalhousie University for nursing and she said she wants to be ready.

"I don't want to just be pushed through the system," she said, adding that she thinks she's already been waiting too long for answers.

"I feel like I'm clueless. I don't know what's going on," said Clayton, a Citadel High School Student in Halifax. "I'm not sure how we're going to finish this school year off."

Clayton said Grade 12 students at his school were already given Chromebooks to prepare for online classes.

Both students said they are also disappointed about missing out on milestones, like graduation and prom.

"I was really looking forward to getting my diploma on the stage. Hopefully, they can [reschedule] that," Clayton said.

Churchill said he wants to ensure students, parents and teachers that there is a plan in case of a prolonged school closure, which addresses graduation for Grade 12 students.

Public libraries looking to help

Many students in the province also rely on public libraries for internet access, but all libraries in the province are closed.

All branches of Halifax Public Libraries will remain closed until April 30.

"Anybody who walks through our branches will see lots of young people doing homework, doing group work, engaged in their studies," said Åsa Kachan, chief librarian and CEO of Halifax Public Libraries.

"I think for all of us who work at the library, it's heartbreaking not to be there to welcome people in."

Åsa Kachan is the chief librarian and CEO of Halifax Public Libraries. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Kachan said Halifax libraries have about four-million logins to their free public WiFi every year.

Despite the libraries being closed, the internet is still running.

On Thursday, more than 3,000 people used that public WiFi. She said there have been no issues so far with people congregating around the libraries in large numbers.

Kachan said she has already reached out to see if libraries can help Grade 12 students who may have to learn from home.

"All the work we've done for years has been getting us ready to support our community well for something like this."

Report cards

Wozney said the deputy minister of education sent an email to teachers on Friday, issuing direction for teachers.

That includes schools working to get in touch with students and families to establish what supports for learning are available at home, such as internet and a device to work on.

It also addresses the issue of report cards. Deputy minister Cathy Montreuil says that all students will be provided with March/April report cards.

"It will be important to be mindful that in some circumstances, the regular reporting may have been hampered by the school closure but rest assured, that the report card will be reflective of the student's progress to date in their grade/courses," the email reads.

"For clarity, report cards will not go out until further information is provided to schools."

Matheson said there will be continued access to student support services remotely, including SchoolsPlus and Parent Navigator.

"Right now, what will be our main focus is following the advice of public health to keep our children safe, keep our students safe," McNeil said on Friday.

With files from CBC's Mainstreet