WHAT DO AMERICANS know about the upcoming school year that we don’t?
Parents throughout the United States have been given a heads up that millions of children will not be in the classroom come fall. And it’s anticipated millions more will be added to the absentee roll call in the weeks to come (the pandemic bloom south of our border makes it patently obvious why this must be so).
Alberta parents, meantime, must wait for the word from on high. Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says she has a plan to advise school boards about scenarios for the fall. She promises to make that decision by the first of August.
Here’s what’s in play:
IN SCHOOL classes resume (near normal with health restrictions).
IN SCHOOL classes partially resume (with additional health restrictions).
HOME SCHOOLING continues (in school classes are suspended).
Option 1 (best case scenario): You wish, but…
Likely not, given the recent uptick in coronavirus cases in the province (which might have been avoided had Albertans deferred protests in close quarters, crowded beaches, parties in the park, and other incubators for the virus).
Option 2 (second best case): Maybe. Let’s see how things look in a week or so.
Class sizes must shrink substantively. Kids may be in school for 2, maybe 3 days a week. Teachers will likely be working in shifts—morning, afternoon, and perhaps late afternoon—it’s going to be a logistical nightmare for parents, regardless.
Option 3 (digital distance education): This is a duh—a new normal—no matter what.
You don’t have to wait for the Minister to make her decision. It’s been made by science which makes it certain that a miracle cure before the fall ain’t going to happen. And it doesn’t look good six months out, let alone a year or two from now.
Let’s be smart about this.
Our parents and infrastructure must be prepared to pivot off all three options at a moment’s notice. And parents need to be confident that digital-delivery of education —as a supplement or the main dish—is going to be much, much better than what was doled out these past few months.
HERE BE THE EDUCATION DRAGONS!
Some countries that opened the schoolyard gates too early have learned a hard lesson.
Israel was prompted to dial back classroom instruction, and recently published a guidebook to help schools switch between in-school and distance learning.
Elsewhere, comprehensive testing & tracking in Germany and Denmark ensure kids coming to school are virus-free. South Korea is meticulous about disinfecting classrooms and scrubbing ventilation systems.
While PPE for teachers and their pupils is mandatory in some schools, in other jurisdictions in the world it’s optional or discouraged.
Social distancing is all over the map.
Some schools have modified classroom layouts and desks to maintain distance—planting physical barriers if need be—to the point of ridicule. Some schools have ditched the idea of social distancing altogether because kids being kids (a) it doesn’t work, (b) students aren’t sardines, and (c) chicken coops are for fowl—not our children.
Back-to-class plans will be submitted to Alberta’s Education Minister by individual school boards based on local conditions. The same thing is happening in other provinces. Where this gets a little trickier is when school boards need to create hybrid models, mixing in-classroom and online education (New York City is looking at a hybrid model) or where entire jurisdictions are legislated to shutter schools for September (as California has just announced).
TO BE OR NOT TO BE ON-LINE
Figuring out ways to “teach” students at their kitchen tables via a hodgepodge of distance education tools was a slog for most families & teachers from March through June, creating:
Inconsistencies in digital reach to students (a failure to communicate) : pedagogy platforms & hardware powered by Zoom are a dog; video streams are staggered by digital potholes—high-speed access is mostly an urban thing;
Gaps in digital capacity (lack of attention to detail) : digital classroom quality is hit and miss. Most teachers were never taught how to engage their students remotely; expect the quality of K-to-12 curriculum to fail badly if teacher-training is not immediately improved;
Digital disconnect with students’ individual learning styles (curiosity killers) : one-size-fits-all digital courseware and delivery doesn’t work with exceptional kids, as well as parents equally challenged by internet schooling.
And what happens when mom & dad no longer work from home? They will need full-time child care for their school-aged kids.
WHO DECIDES AND WHO PAYS?
Politicians, healthcare experts, educators and support workers and their unions, will chime in whether kids can come back to school in September. But we’re betting it’s the parents that will be the ultimate deciders about who they can trust and are willing to entrust their kids future.
It’s going to cost a bundle, no matter what.
Infrastructure modifications, extra cleaning, additional training, acquiring or creating digital curriculum from scratch, and all the other extra costs of education in a novel coronavirus universe is scary.
Wrapping her head around the fall education conundrum, America’s education czar Betsy DeVos, and her boss, is spooked by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and it’s recommendations for in-classroom education. They’re too onerous, they say (political-speak for too expensive!).
How much is too much and what’s not enough?
It goes without saying money is short in Alberta. We must be clever with the cash on hand, the institutions and resources we have, for example, staggering in-school times for students, having two shifts of kids per day in classrooms (perhaps temporarily repurposing some of those empty office towers in downtown Calgary & Edmonton).
You can expect smart entrepreneurs and user-pay models for families who can afford to purchase third party digital education & tutoring, but these options risk widening the education gaps. A yet-to-be-named publicly-funded charter school could be a proverbial phoenix arising from COVID-19’s ashes if it could figure out how to digitize and deliver par excellence Alberta’s K-12 curriculum (much the same way Athabasca University got ahead of the online curve in the post-secondary space). Perhaps there’s legs for a shopify-style subscription a la carte service to guide individual school boards wanting to educate online.
NURTURE THE NATURE OF CURIOSITY
Opponents of Alberta’s education—and the so-called economy of education—complain the current system beats the curiosity out of kids. Some parents are demanding the keys to unlock publicly-supported education. Our current provincial government seems partial to this idea. The previous government less so. Kids, meantime, are in the middle of a polarized squabble–during a pandemic.
Beep-— time out!
The aim of K-to-12 education is to do whatever it takes to feed & nurture the innate curiosity of children. If kids stop being curious, life-long learning becomes rote.
We require smart choices about inculcating school-age children in the near term. Yank the chain of your MLA, and let the Minister of Education know what’s on your mind about your child’s education.
We cannot afford to fail them.
This column is the consensus opinion of the writers Donna Kennedy-Glans & Don Hill. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to BEYOND POLARITY — scroll down on your phone or tablet, or look to the right in the panel beside this post. Enter your email to FOLLOW, a wheel spins, hamsters get fed.