Teaching online classes will be mandatory in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak in schools or if a second wave causes more school closures in the fall. In a statement to Global News, Quebec’s education minister, Jean-Francois Roberge, confirmed that teachers will have to “assure a continuity of learning” unlike in the spring when the focus of distance-learning was to simply “maintain knowledge.”
“It will be mandatory to give classes from a distance,” said Francis Bouchard, the minister’s spokesperson. “In the case of the closing of a classroom, a school or several schools next (school) year.”
Bouchard added that unlike last spring when “maintaining” knowledge was the focus of online learning. “The emergency protocol planned for the next school year targets the continuation of learning from a distance,” he said.
The details of the education ministry’s emergency protocol are still in the works and expected to be shared with school boards and service centres by Sept. 15. But some wonder why it has taken so long, considering a second wave was predictable months ago.
“Schools closed on March 13, we had lots of time to get organized and to be prepared for the fall,” said the president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) Heidi Yetman, adding that the government turned down their request to close schools earlier in June or add training in late August to bring teachers up to speed with online teaching tools and platforms.
A survey of QPAT’s 8,000 members in May revealed that the majority of teachers had never received any kind of online teaching training and that some living in rural regions still have no internet access.
“We have a lot of work to do if you think that 60 per cent of our teachers got no training whatsoever and learned everything on their own in the spring,” said Yetman. “I’m wondering how school teams are going to have time to prepare for the fall if they only have three days in August before school starts.”
Elementary and high school students at the English Montreal School Board are set to return to class on August 31.
“We’ve been told that high school students may not be there for a five-day week,” said EMSB spokesperson Mike Cohen. “There’s a lot of questions that still need to be answered and I’m sure that we will learn that in August.”
Cohen said he’s confident EMSB teachers will be ready to heed to the call of distance learning if need be.
“We have a good system in place so if we have to fall back on it, our teachers have virtually been trained on it, students know how to deal with it, parents, unfortunately, know how to deal with it as well so we’ll be ready if it comes to that,” said Cohen.
The chair of the EMSB’s parents’ committee is relieved to hear distance learning will be mandated by the government.
“That’s certainly what we expected, that’s what we’ve been fighting for,” said Caroline Phaneuf. “We can’t have our children being held back a year and not getting all the curriculum they’re supposed to be getting next year just because of COVID.”
Phaneuf’s biggest concern is making sure that all students are equipped with computers, internet access and platforms to optimize online learning.
“I don’t think we should wait until mid-September until this happens to distribute 80,000 computers to children across the province,” said Phaneuf. “It’s not something that happens in 24 hours evidently because it hasn’t been done yet.”
According to Cohen, the majority of students at the EMSB have already been equipped with the necessary tools, with the help of the education ministry.
“We ended up being able to get them equipment through the ministry so a credit to them for that and they got the access necessary,” insisted Cohen.