No more snow days? Education minister to examine online learning options

Click to play video: 'Could snow days for Nova Scotia students be over?'
Could snow days for Nova Scotia students be over?
WATCH: With the advancement of online during the pandemic many are wondering if this spells the end of snow days as we know it for students in Nova Scotia. The province’s minister of education says they are going to look at ways they can modernize their approach to snow days but need to consult with the teachers union first. Jesse Thomas has more – Dec 10, 2021

With the advancement in online learning during the pandemic, many are wondering if the end of snow days has come for students in Nova Scotia.

The province is going to look at changes for schooling on snow days, said Becky Druhan, minister of education and early childhood development, but it needs to consult with the teachers union first.

“This is something that is newly available as a result of technology and the efforts of lots of people over the course of the pandemic,” said Druhan.  “The reality is many of our structures and practices in the education system relate to collective agreements that were written and agreed upon before any of these options were available.”

All schools were closed Wednesday when Nova Scotians dug themselves out from the first winter wallop. Snowfalls between 25 to 40 centimetres came in the Halifax region.

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Paul Bennett, an education consultant and director of the Halifax-based Schoolhouse Institute said over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic students in Nova Scotia have spent 18 weeks learning at home. So it came as a bit of a surprise, he said, that schools in Nova Scotia failed to pivot and use that technology during a forecasted snowstorm.

“Nothing surprised me more than to see the first snowfall of the year, and we were not prepared — or we were not committed — to using the technology they spent, essentially two years perfecting,” said Bennett. “We knew on Monday this was going to be the heaviest snowfall of the year and everyone got ready.”

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Druhan says the department of education wants to investigate the opportunity to transition to e-learning when snow days come, but they have yet to sit down and discuss with the NSTU.

“It’s certainly a plan of mine to start that conversation,” said Druhan. “We have abilities that we didn’t have in the past and it’s absolutely worth exploring what ways we should be modernizing the system.”

NSTU president Paul Wozney says the government could do away with snow days if they wish. It is not teachers’ contractual arrangements that stand in the way, he said. Instead, it’s about access to the technology.

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“The collective agreement is not the barrier,” said Wozney. “It really boils down to logistics and there is an assumption that everybody has the internet and everybody has a device, and we know now after the pandemic, that’s not the case.”

Liberal education critic Derke Mombourquette says it’s unlikely the department of education would make a decision on a whim and do away with snow days this winter.

“A lot of consultation is going to have to happen, and personally for me in my opinion, I just don’t see how you flick the switch and go to virtual learning or at-home learning, it would be very difficult, especially for parents.”

But with students missing more days of class, Bennett continues to question why the new technology is not being used to limit classroom disruption.

“We’ve had COVID-19 and the pivot to online learning, and we’ve become very good at pivoting to use the technology,” says Bennett. “So why all of a sudden is it not available to students and teachers?”

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