Education minister says lessons learned last spring prepared Newfoundland and Labrador school system – The Telegram

Posted: February 16, 2021 at 2:49 pm


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Newfoundland and Labrador Education Minister Tom Osborne. YouTube Screen grab

With the provincewide implementation of Alert Level 5, all schools in Newfoundland and Labrador are now readjusting to virtual classrooms.

Meanwhile, the provincial government's efforts to provide Chromebooks to all students in grades 7-12 hit a snag that's beyond its control, the education minister, says.

Thus far, the province has 2,000 of the 30,000 Chromebooks ordered last July for students in grades 7-12, and expects to have a further 10,000 "within the next week or two," Tom Osborne said Monday.

More than 5,000 laptops were distributed to teachers earlier in the school year.

"As more shipments come in, we will continue to distribute them," Osborne said. "We anticipated delivery of Chromebooks last year. However, the reality is national and global demand is far outstripping availability of both devices and components."

Osborne said the order made last July was the third largest of any jurisdiction in the country, and the province currently has enough to meet the needs of every student in grades 7-12 who previously indicated they did not have a device to gain access to online learning.

Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD) CEO Tony Stack said the manufacturer Lenovo expects to provide "an additional couple of hundred" before the end of this month, 4,000 by mid-March and 7,000 by the end of March. In total, the province should have approximately 23,000 by the beginning of April. Stack said the remainder will come before the end of the school year. He cited a global shortage of microprocessors as the main factor delaying receipt of the full order of Chromebooks.

Osborne encouraged parents with connectivity or device issues to contact school administrators. He said those administrators will work with the parents and the district to find solutions.

Stack said he is aware of new requests coming from people not identified in the first two rounds of surveying that took place since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're asking people only to identify if they absolutely need a device on the basis of need," Stack said.

The NLESD has emphasized the fact students can use any number of devices, including cellphones, tablets and laptops, and not just Chromebooks, to access Google Classroom and Google Meets.

On connectivity, Stack said the NLESD determined approximately three to five per cent of the provincial student population lacked a reliable internet connection at home as of last spring. In May, it distributed MiFi devices that function as a wireless hotspot, allowing those students to connect to the internet through cellular service.

As of Monday, all schools in the St. John's metro area were already learning online, with others across the province expected to start throughout the week.

Stack noted teachers are being encouraged to work from home under Alert Level 5, though some can choose to do so from the school if the home environment is not an option for handling online classes.

One change Stack brought up concerned students with complex needs who work with instructional resource teachers. In the event of classroom activities being moved online during the pandemic, the initial plan was to continue to allow those students into the school to learn with their teachers. He said that won't happen this week and may not happen next week, either, but parents will be contacted later this week to discuss virtual learning.

"We want to confirm that the health and safety measures, such as the nature of the masks and different protocols, are confirmed by (public health officials) before we bring any student into a building, or any teacher who has an interaction with a student in the building," Stack said.

"We want to make sure that the appropriate medical health advice is being followed. That needs to be confirmed, and that's going to take a few days. We understand, having worked around the clock with health, that they are intensely busy right now in dealing with the issue of the pandemic itself. Those questions need to be clarified in order for us to confirm that things are safe to proceed."

Stack said the NLESD has been in constant contact with the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association (NLTA), particularly since news broke in the province of the presence of a more contagious variant of COVID-19. The recent uptick in cases is largely tied to a cluster that spread in Mount Pearl Senior High.

"We've also tweaked some of our correspondence and procedures based on (NLTA) input," Stack said. "We've had good dialogue there."

The NLTA issued a news release Monday, voicing its approval for suspending in-school instruction. It said when schools reopen, enhanced protections need to be considered in light of the new variant of COVID-19. NLTA president Dean Ingram said teachers need to be prioritized in Phase 2 of the provincial vaccination plan.

Stack said the NLESD is prepared for online teaching to continue for as long as it's deemed necessary, but the preferable outcome remains to eventually get back into classrooms safely. That, he added, is entirely contingent on what happens with the pandemic and the advice the NLESD gets from public health officials.

Osborne alluded to the fact lessons were learned following the experience last spring with online teaching, and Stack later elaborated on that.

"Before the year started, we did a number of health and safety protocols with teachers, but also quite a bit of professional learning around virtual learning," he said. "Later in the fall, we put out an ask to teachers if you're still feeling you need something additional, please let us know. There were some 2,000 teachers that wanted a bit more training, so we organized release time for them and conducted that professional learning.

"Teachers have been really good at stepping up. A lot of online resources were made available that they accessed on their own. If there's still some out there that require additional learning and look, we're always learning then all they have to do is identify what those learning needs are, and we will address them. But we're a long ways ahead from where we were last spring. Leaps and bounds."

[emailprotected] | Twitter: @CBNAndrew

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Education minister says lessons learned last spring prepared Newfoundland and Labrador school system - The Telegram

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February 16th, 2021 at 2:49 pm

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