New Brunswick’s minister of post-secondary education, training and labour is confident that the province will see a return to in-class learning this fall.
“We’re looking forward to September when everyone can be in class in person. Based on all of the information that we have in front of us right now, we believe we can do that,” Trevor Holder said in an interview.
But when and how classes return will ultimately be up to post-secondary institutions.
The University of New Brunswick sent an email to students last week saying the fall semester will likely see a mix of in-person and online classes.
“You can anticipate that the majority of classes offered in Fall 2021 will have an in-person component. We recommend that you prepare to be on campus in September to attend in-person classes,” reads the email.
That’s sparking excitement in some, who say much is lost without the in-person component of higher learning.
“That in-personal interaction is extremely important,” said Sean Mackenzie, president of the UNB Student Union.
“It kind of gives you that release after class, you know, you can talk to people; if you’re stuck on a problem someone can give you advice.”
Mackenzie said campus activities are particularly important for students not from the region, who may arrive from outside of the province or county without knowing a single classmate.
But as the transition nears, the New Brunswick Student Alliance is calling for institutions to be flexible and accommodate those who may not be able or willing to transition fully back to in-person learning all at once.
“The flexibility is really allowing students to be deciding where they want their education to be,” said student alliance president Wasiimah Joomun.
“As a province who is really looking at retaining students, post-secondary students and a future workforce, I feel like having that flexibility will show that we care about them and we want them to stay here and we want them to have a holistic education and give back to the province.”
Institutions looking for a model of how to transition back to in-class learning don’t have to look too far. Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., has been offering a mix of in-person and virtual learning since September.
Over the course of this academic year, just three cases of COVID-19 have been found in the university community.
Student union president Jonathan Ferguson credits that success to public health, the school and the hard work of the student body.
“I think we were all a little nervous going into this year to see how exactly it would play out, but I have to say looking back on it we couldn’t be happier with the results of the planning and dedication,” he said.
“It serves as a model for Atlantic Canada, perhaps the rest of Canada, of how can we have in-person classes come back.”