A combination of internet-based learning, family activities and paper studies will be among the steps the Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) is taking to prolong student education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, the department released its NWT Education Bulletin, which outlines various measures following the closure of schools for the rest of the 2019-2020 academic year.

School boards across the territory, the Northwest Territories Teachers’ Association (NWTTA) and ECE all agreed last week that schools should remain closed as a safety measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students will take part in a mixture of online and offline courses after schools were closed, a GNWT education bulletin says. NNSL file photo

Grades and report cards

All junior kindergarten (JK) to Grade 12 students will receive report cards and final grades for the school year, the bulletin stated.

The regular process of grade promotion, placement or retention will continue, in collaboration with the parents.

School staff will work with students in grades 10-12 so they complete their core subjects and receive final marks and credits.

“In circumstances where students are unable to fully complete their current courses as intended, schools can provide students with other work — such as alternate assignments or projects — so that they can finish the course in order to receive credit,” the bulletin said.

Grade 12 students on their way to graduation will still be eligible to graduate and receive an NWT high school diploma in June.

Exams

Grade 6 and 9 Alberta achievement tests (AATs) have been cancelled for May and June.

“AATs already completed by Grade 9 students in January 2020 will not be centrally marked this summer, and reports will not be available for schools,” ECE stated.

Grade 12 diploma exams have also been cancelled and students currently registered to write them during April and June will receive exemptions. The school-awarded mark will be their final mark.

Online learning

ECE, education boards and the NWTTA are working together on developing “continued learning opportunities” during the school closures that will take different forms, depending on the school and community subject to staff availability and internet access.

“It is important to understand that technology in the North is limited, especially in small communities, and therefore the expectations for learning online must reflect these limitations,” the bulletin said. “Teachers and families should consider that a significant draw on internet and technology resources will cause delays and concerns across the territory for families, businesses and essential services like health care. Care should be taken to ensure continued learning does not rely entirely on online access.”

For homes with internet access, online programs like Google Classroom or Moodle could be used to send lessons and receive feedback and completed assignments. Chat tools like Facebook Live, GoToMeeting, Skype or Zoom can be used for communication.

The bulletin didn’t specify when the classes would begin but an update on the ECE website said “Education Bodies have been asked to put their continued learning plans in place for students as soon as practically possible, as soon after the Easter weekend as possible.”

In a letter to parents and stakeholders on Tuesday, Yellowknife Education District No. 1 (YK1) superintendent Metro Huculak said “NWT education bodies have been instructed to work towards being able to deliver services in accordance with this bulletin by April 14. That gives us two weeks to plan, communicate and prepare to deliver these services.

Yellowknife Catholic Schools superintendent Simone Gessler told NNSL Media that its courses would also start on April 14.

“We’re collaborating on what those activities will look like. It would be a mix of tech and non-tech learning. Not everyone has the opportunity for online learning and we need to support all of our students. (We also need to) follow the recommendations of the chief public health officer in terms of social distancing — we need to figure that into our offline learning,” Gessler said.

Offline learning

Teachers will consider household activities that will permit families to do things together such as reading, journal writing and shared numeracy tasks.

“Teachers will be asked to check in with families regularly using the most efficient means available (phone, email, etc.) to see how they are doing and if they need any extra support or resources,” ECE stated.

For homes that lack internet access, schools will endeavour to provide paper-based assignments and resources for students. Outside supports could be utilized, for example radio stations might share information about accessing school materials; telephones and teleconferences could be used to check in with students; Indigenous governments and hamlet offices might assist; completed assignments could be dropped off at designated spots; and teachers might prepare packages for students and families with school supplies, journals, art supplies and books.

Class duration

For junior kindergarten (JK) to Grade 9, the class content will be appropriate for the learning level, and class time progressively increases.

For example, for JK-Grade 3 play periods, inquiry and assignments will last about three hours per week.

From Grade 4 to Grade 9, it increases to about five hours to seven hours per week, and for grades 10-12 it “is anticipated that students will need to dedicate an average of three hours of work per course per week, and will be expected to work with their teachers, parents and others on these learning outcomes and materials.”

Learning outside the classroom

The ECE bulletin points out that parents are children’s first teachers and that teaching them important skills can happen outside classrooms.

For children with complex needs, the adjustment to staying at home could be a challenge but also an opportunity to learn simple routines, how to manage emotions, or life skills like tying shoes, cooking and household chores.

The situation also presents opportunities for on-the-land Learning. In the bulletin, families are encouraged to venture into the bush to teach activities like packing, arranging gear, setting traps, chopping wood, starting cooking fires and other traditional skills.

“Students may be able to apply for credit based on their experience and time on the land. Special projects credits may be available based on learning experiences,” the document reads.

Remote counselling

Mental health counselling through remote technology and telephone services will be available for all students.

“Child and youth care counsellors and counsellors from Northern Counselling and Therapeutic Services are in the process of reaching out to students that they have been working with to make arrangements with them individually.”

ECE will provide more information about how students can access additional support.

Healthy food programs

A concern voiced by many people on social media is how children from low-income families who benefitted from healthy lunch programs will continue to receive regular meals now that schools are closed.

The bulletin gave no specifics but said that in the near future each school would provide “community and school-specific instructions about what programs will be offered and how to access them.”

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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