Kids are returning to school this week after an extended spring break due to COVID-19, however, the classroom looks a lot different.
Due to health restrictions, classes are now being taught online, often through the video chat app ‘Zoom’ where teachers can have face-to-face lessons with their students.
Marina Milner-Bolotin, associate professor, faculty of education at UBC, said that while secondary students have grown accustomed to online learning, for middle school and primary students learning online presents a challenge.
“The biggest challenge in my view is for younger kids,” said Milner-Bolotin.
“Younger kids need physical activity, they need to move. They can’t just sit for six hours in front of a computer. They also need adults to supervise them and to help them. So, if you have this opportunity at home then lucky you, but many children don’t.”
Parents are also faced with the difficulty of monitoring their children’s schooling, while providing extra help when needed on top of their jobs. But, for many parents, education is a foreign language, especially when tasked with paying the bills and putting food on the table.
Milner-Bolotin said another issue that presents itself is that teachers will have to adapt to online learning. For many teachers, teaching online will be an easy adjustment if they’ve experienced it as a student, whereas others with no experience will have a hard time learning new technology and using it effectively.
“Some teachers are very apprehensive about technology, so I think it’s a big challenge for them,” said Milner-Bolotin.
“I think to learn something new in a situation that’s an emergency is very difficult. Imagine they were told a year ago ‘in a year we’ll have a pandemic and you must learn to teach online’, well then I guarantee they’d be comfortable with teaching online. Now, they have to learn it in a much more stressful situation.”
The greatest challenge may lay with the students from low-income households who may not be able to access online education from home, stated Milner-Bolotin.
She said that many families do not have enough computers to go around, making it difficult to complete their assignments and engage in online lessons.
“In regular circumstances, kids can go to the library if they need to and they’re not required to use a computer all the time,” said Milner-Bolotin.
To assist with learning the B.C. government is investing $3 million into public libraries.
Rob Fleming, Minister of Education explained that it’s important that people have access to digital literacy programs, ebooks and online learning.
“Libraries can use this new funding to provide enhanced digital and connectivity services by expanding Wi-Fi capabilities, offering community digital literacy training, enhancing online library programs and purchasing technology, such as scanners, tablets, microphones and cameras,” he said.
However, there is another looming concern for Milner-Bolotin, that of the well-being of students who may experience violence or other issues in the home and are now confined to that space.
She said many students rely on school as an escape from abuse and school-provided meals for food.
Fortunately, the Central Okanagan District School board has a plan in place for students who need extra support.
According to Moyra Baxter, board chairperson of the Central Okanagan School Board, the board has already lent out about 1,000 laptops to students who need them. It will also begin supplying food packages to families in which their children have been using the school’s meal programs. The package will be delivered once a week and will include breakfast and lunches.
In addition, Baxter said communication will be made often between teachers and students to ensure the safety of each student at home.
“It’s a case of us trying to do things in a different way, knowing it won’t be the same,” said Baxter.
“This does present challenges, but we are trying to do what we can for vulnerable students.”
The board will be holding a public meeting online on Wednesday, April 8, to inform the Okanagan on its plan to support its students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Visit this link to attend.