School’s back but not as we know it

Rebecca Vassarotti 29 April 2020 11
Online learning

Students, teachers and parents are managing the brave new world of online learning. Photo: File.

School’s back in the ACT with a Term 2 like no other, and online learning is suddenly the norm for most of the Territory’s students. 

This signals the next phase of managing the formal education of our young people through the COVID-19 pandemic. The process has been contentious and challenging. Unlike many other areas of this crisis, schooling has been the focus of different advice and views from medical experts and political leaders. 

It was only a couple of months ago that debate was raging about whether or not schools should be open at all. In the end, we got to a situation where most schools moved to a ‘pupil-free arrangement’. While extremely challenging for many families, there was a high level of support for this move, particularly given the valid concerns of teachers who were at the front line managing a highly infectious virus in an environment that sees the congregation of many individuals.

Now as we head into a new term, there is still very confusing and seemingly contradictory advice. This is an issue where there seems to be a clear split between the views of State and Territory Governments who are responsible for delivering public education, and the Commonwealth Government.

The Commonwealth Government’s recent messaging, including advice that activities that have been stressed as important to stop outside a school environment are now deemed safe inside a school environment, does nothing to help the situation. While the evidence suggests that children and young people are at lesser risk of the virus (while recognising a recent UK health alert about serious subsequent health effects in children from COVID-19), we also know that schools are places where adults congregate – teachers, teachers aides, support staff – as well as parents and carers.

This health crisis is moving quickly and we are learning more about it all the time. It was reassuring to see the results of a study in NSW schools that suggested no students infected teachers; however, in a connected world, we also hear of other situations such as the case of a school in Auckland which has seen one of the largest clusters of COVID-19 cases in New Zealand.

There is also reporting out of New York that 65 Department of Education employees (including 25 teachers) have died from COVID-19. In light of this information, it’s surprising and frankly unsettling to hear some people so definitively declare that schools are safe. Less surprising is the concern expressed by teachers about moving too quickly back to normal classes prior to a vaccine being available. 

With still so much to learn about coronavirus, it’s difficult to argue against the current approach taken by the ACT. This doesn’t mean it is easy for students and families, but it is an approach that is aiming to meet different needs in difficult circumstances. 

Larger jurisdictions have to deal with the challenges of distances and sheer numbers. However, here in Canberra, teachers, the Education Directorate and the government have done good work to get our students ready to learn in an online environment.

Teachers have been working tirelessly over the last few weeks to get things in place to deliver curriculum and classes online. The government has reached out to help students without access to the internet or devices to get these in place before the beginning of the new school term. 

While different from usual arrangements, the hub school model has been put in place to provide options for parents who have essential roles and cannot support their children learning at home. These are aiming to balance the need for appropriate supervision, while not asking teachers to deliver a hybrid model of online and face-to-face learning. 

Having had a taste of supporting students to learn from home in the weeks leading up to the school holidays, there is no denying it’s tough – for parents, students and teachers. The hub model will also be challenging for children and families asked to engage with unfamiliar schools and support staff. It’s not an ideal situation but living through this public health crisis has meant that we have had to quickly introduce new ways of doing things. There is little doubt that teachers have done an extraordinary job in doing all they can to support the learning of their students and support families manage this situation. 

As we’re in the first days of this new phase, it will be important to listen, learn and adapt. Whether or not we are supporting our kids at home, or engaging in the hub school model, there will different experiences and impacts for different groups of students and families. We do need to be flexible as issues emerge. It will be important to listen to children, parents and teachers about how the process is working and how we can improve it if needed.

How was your family’s experience of the first week back at school? 

Rebecca is an ACT Greens candidate for Kurrajong in the upcoming Territory election


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11 Responses to School’s back but not as we know it
Kristen Booker Kristen Booker 10:08 pm 30 Apr 20

Our teachers are amazing! Remote schooling isn't easy, but it's totally worth it. We're happy to stay home for the term of it helps keep us all safe.

Ken Mansell Ken Mansell 4:02 pm 30 Apr 20

Zero active cases in the ACT. 24 days of targeted random testing finds no cases. 6 day of “test anyone” finds no cases. Chief Medical Officers of NZ, Australia, NSW, SA, WA, NT… say schools are safe. Peer reviewed research from Europe, UK and NSW say schools are safe. Every educational expert says at home learning is bad for most students especially disadvantaged students…

Melinda Gonczarek Melinda Gonczarek 3:10 pm 30 Apr 20

The teachers are really doing an amazing job in crazy times! And it’s crazy time’s for all - imagine being a teacher working from home with your own kids right now! Frankly they all deserve to be collectively recognised as our ACT heroes next year the same way we recognised our ESA!

Thank you teachers (from a mum of two high schoolers learning remotely at home).

ski8 ski8 2:52 pm 30 Apr 20

To have no face to face learning for all of term 2 is far from ideal! I do feel the teachers have done a good job of creating content for remote learning. But my 2 high school age kids have about an hour’s worth of work a day and it is woefully inadequate when compared to face to face learning. Even having one or 2 days a week in a few week’s time would be better than rigidly sticking to all of this term being online. It seems that the government does not want to even consider face to face learning for this term! What will it take for them to be open to other options or at least acknowledge that they are open to this changing especially considering ACT has no active cases at this time? I am not unrealistic that even if the schools open up in some way in the next few weeks and we do see an increase in cases they may need to close them down again. As they say, dealing with this is a fluid situation while this government seems rigid with regards to schools!

helena helena 1:46 pm 30 Apr 20

The directorate and the Ministers approach, particularly their use of a hub site model (an approach only used in the ACT), as well as the sentiment in this article are overlooking one of many key fundamental points- that being the difference between equal and equality.

Equal means everybody gets a device and internet access. What is not equal is the context in which they are all utilising those devices. I.e, not so bad for families with two parents, at home, who can continue their jobs, with one child. Terrible for families, who are single parents, many children, need to go to work, have the extra unnecessary stress of having to send their children to a hub site etc

This article does not draw on any form of any relevant evidence (research, lived experience etc) and what is drawn on is mis represented ( please author do the maths when applying NY and UK experiences and calculate the likelihood of occurrence in the ACT).

This is why evidence based policy decisions that are adaptive and responsive to ever changing circumstances are necessary.

The minister stated that another 4 weeks is needed before sharing a review plan, therefore 9 weeks, since mid march, to come up with a plan, was there no contingency planning, impact analysis and risk assessment undertaken before the decision to close schools for a whole term was made? All other states have provided a review date and transition plan to their families.

This is a fundamental underpinning of any policy development, particularly one as far reaching as closing school sites to children of essential workers and other families in need and setting up hub site.

Indeed has the CHO of the ACT come out and stated that schools should be closed based on current evidence and circumstances?

    fbook fbook 4:47 pm 30 Apr 20

    The remote learning is a con to keep themselves on full pay and empty classes.

Andrew Lancaster Andrew Lancaster 1:33 pm 30 Apr 20

There’s a bunch of people not listening to the clear medical advice that SCHOOLS ARE SAFE! Then the same people talk about confusion and uncertainty. Frankly, the decision to keep kids at home is looking more ridiculous as each day passes. Remember kids in the ACT missed out on much of the summer because of the smoke. All organised sport has been cancelled. They also miss out on school and can’t visit friends. What a horrible situation. They spend way too much time online. And the “hub” model is just another way to keep kids away from school. Remember, this disease is no risk to healthy adults, let alone children.

Cate Green Cate Green 12:55 pm 30 Apr 20

If school is not safe why do they think that these hub site are a good idea compared to only a few kids at each school site? Seems to me very likely that it’s simply to keep the education union happy.
We do also have to think about he psychological impact of everyone being cooped up at home. I worry about all the kids who were already at risk and now no one is really able to check on them…

helena helena 11:40 am 30 Apr 20

To the commenter mentioning how well they have been catered to, a perfect example to highlight how both the directorate and the Minister, as well as the writer of this article are missing one of many key fundamental points- that being the difference between equal and equality.

Equal means everybody gets a device and internet access. What is not equal is the context in which they are all utilising it. I.e, not so bad for families with two parents, at home, who can continue their jobs, with one child. Terrible for families, who are single parents, many children, need to go to work, have the extra unnecessary stress of now having to commute to a hub site etc

This article does not draw on any form of any relevant evidence (research, lived experience etc) and what is drawn on is mis represented ( please author do the maths when applying NY and UK experiences and calculate the likelihood of occurrence in the ACT).

This is why evidence based policy decisions that are adaptive and responsive to ever changing circumstances are necessary.

The minister stated that another 4 weeks is needed before sharing a review plan, therefore 9 weeks to come up with a plan, was there no contingency planning, impact analysis and risk assessment undertaken before the decision to close schools for a whole term was made?

This is a fundamental underpinning of any policy development, particularly one as far reaching as closing school sites to children of essential workers and other families in need and setting up hub site.

A petition has been started calling for;

1. Regular review – (fortnightly)

2. Appropriate process of consultation with families

3. Consideration of diversity of family needs when developing remote learning models whilst they are in place

Petition Link
http://chng.it/zfpXj4yZmW

Monty Ki Monty Ki 8:44 am 30 Apr 20

We had lots of fun, some tears, lots of learning for both parents and our child. Our teacher is fabulous and the whole teaching team at North Ainslie Primary School has done an amazing job. Let's avoid a second wave pandemic and keep our kids and our community safe by not rushing back to face to face. Our teachers are doing a wonderful job and they deserve so much praise for how quickly they have adapted to, and helped us adapt to online learning. Keep COVID19 away by staying away. Stay safe everyone.

Elspeth Shannon Rollason Elspeth Shannon Rollason 8:10 am 30 Apr 20

My kids want to go back to school full time is what they have announced

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