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In the transformative times in which we are living, it is wise for society to take stock of its values. With a new and challenging school year on the horizon, I am writing to discuss the importance we place on education in our province.
A friend and his family recently moved to the Middle East. Schools in Newfoundland and Labrador and Dubai cancelled in-class learning at the same time, but their approach in the following months couldn’t have been more different.
My friend explained that on the Friday schools closed, the emir of Dubai appeared on national TV to address the situation. He announced that, although in-class learning would cease on the following Monday, students would be continuing with their regular schedules online. There would be no interruption in learning.
“Education is in our DNA. It does not stop for war, famine or disease,” the emir said.
Do we place the same level of importance on education as Dubai? Is education in our DNA? If we consider our lacklustre response in the wake of the school closure with regards to continued learning, the chronic absenteeism in recent years and our perennial status as having the highest rate of illiteracy in the country, one would have to be willfully ignorant to believe that our values align.
In mid-March, when the decision was made to close schools, our government should have had two main objectives: the first, to create a plan to safely reopen when the time came; the second, to provide online or remote learning to the children of this province in the interim as we anxiously await school reopening, and to have this program in place as a contingency plan should schools would be forced to close again.
Nearly six months have passed and in my estimation the reopening plan has created more questions than answers; not the least of which, the question of transportation. With two weeks remaining before school reopened, the government didn’t have a plan to get 6,000 children to and from school.
One of the questions that remain is how effectively will we be able to provide online learning in the event some students are forced to be absent for an extended period of time, or an outbreak forces school to close again entirely?
Online learning should not be used as a last resort, but as a key component that’s fully integrated into our education system permanently.
Maurice Barry, a long time educator specializing in e-learning, expressed his opinion on how schools could use a hybrid model, where there would be a mix of in class and online learning.
In his article, Barry explained how this approach would help alleviate many of the issues currently plaguing our reopening plan, namely over-crowded buses and congestion in our schools.
We have recently learned that this was the basis of the plan brought forward by Newfoundland and Labrador English School District three month ago. But the recommendations weren’t acted upon, nor was it the government’s intent to make the public privy to the report’s recommendations.
Although this approach would come with its own set of challenges, it would provide some great benefits, in both the short and long term. As mentioned, it would solve the busing issues and alleviate congestion in schools. It would also provide parents and students with the comfort of knowing that the online system would be functional in the event schools have to close.
The long-term benefits of integrating an e-learning program into our education system would prove to be invaluable. In Newfoundland and Labrador, as the most recent school year demonstrated, weather can be terribly disruptive.
With time lost to snow and PD days, our kids are already losing several weeks of instruction every year. Extrapolating this over their K-12 career, kids are potentially losing a full school year of learning.
We should no longer be willing to accept this. An e-learning program would return this learning opportunity to students, representing a massive return on investment.
If Newfoundland and Labrador is to find its way out of this quagmire, we can no longer settle for mediocrity in our education system.
A rededication to education will be essential, and the introduction of effective e-learning would be a great start. The continuity of education has to be insured, regardless of the status of the virus or forecast.
Jason R. Mercer