April 16 marked the official return of “classes” for the Yukon’s public school students, a remarkable feat given that up until April 7 no one had any official notice what the plan was.
While many around the territory had hunches schools would not reconvene this spring following the cancellation of the Arctic Winter Games and the subsequently-announced extension to the March break, students, parents and teachers found out the same time as the rest of us — at the press conference where the Department of Education announced that learning would move to a distance model, using a combination of online learning tools, teleconferencing, phone calls and old-fashioned paper handouts.
This impromptu switch, however, required an incredible amount of work by the territory’s teachers, educational assistants and other school staff to get in place.
While Moodle, an online learning tool, was already in limited use in the territory, it and other online tools have grown rapidly in popularity as teachers work diligently to adapt weeks of lessons into a format suitable for mass dissemination.
When Yukon Teacher’s Association president Sue Ross spoke to the News about the shift, she pointed out that everybody across the country was going through the same thing. She also pointed out that the two-week extension to the break gave teachers a chance to figure out how to adapt to the new delivery methods available to teachers.
That, in a nut shell, is what makes teachers such an incredible group of people. Faced with little information, not much for guidance or structure, and minimal existing infrastructure, things were somehow ready to go when the government said learning should restart.
Unfortunately, this change in circumstance is going to affect students differently depending on individual situations.
The most obvious example of this is through access to technology at home.
While many students in the territory have access to internet and a device to access the web, not everyone is so lucky. The experience of a student with their own laptop or tablet, who is able to use Zoom or Skype or the web conferencing app du jour to get help from their teacher, is going to be far superior to the student without those tools, left to complete paper-based work with no efficient and easy way to get help.
Teachers are aware of this, of course, and going above and beyond to ensure students get as much support as possible.
Students who are the children of essential or critical workers also face the added challenge of not having that immediate support to help with the learning process. Those in high school with jobs often work in essential businesses like grocery stores or pharmacies, and likely have picked up more shifts as society continues to stock up to stay home.
The learning experience for those who only have a chance to crack the books after working a long shift will never be as fruitful as the experience for those without such commitments. Likewise for those whose parents are laid off — stress and learning don’t mesh well.
Where students will likely suffer most however, is socially. While most kids will typically tell you they don’t miss school, absence makes the heart grow fonder. School is not only a place for learning, but a place for sport, friendship and relaxation. School can be a refuge for students, and many will feel like they have nowhere to fill that void right now.
The 2020 graduating classes, both from high schools and elementary schools, will be deprived of a typical graduation. Walking across the stage to get their diplomas and senior proms won’t happen this spring.
The good news is this is temporary.
For those students with an ingrained passion for learning and resources available, this will be a mere bump on the road.
Others, however, will find this time the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Those who didn’t like school before this happened, will probably like it even less after this year ends. It may lead some to drop out and join the workforce — a short-term success that could have long-term repercussions.
Whatever happens this spring, students and parents can take solace in the fact that students across the country and around the globe are facing the same thing.
When things get back to normal and classrooms fill up for another semester, all involved will have a new-found appreciation of the tangible and intangible benefits of the school experience.
But until then, teachers and students will continue their hard work despite the circumstances. That’s a lesson we would all do well to learn.