24 Mar 2020

Coronavirus: What you need to know about school and uni closures

2:39 pm on 24 March 2020

From Thursday, all schools, tertiary providers and early learning centres will be shut as the country moves into a lockdown to combat the spread of Covid-19.

The ramping up of the alert level yesterday and announcement of the move to level four has people rushing to make arrangements in preparation.

High school students on their way home, teenagers.

(File image.) Photo: 123RF

Here are the key things to know about the school closures:

With everyone instructed to stay home, all educational facilities should provide distance learning where possible by staff working from home.

School staff who are over 70 and/or vulnerable to Covid-19 should already be staying at home but can work from there if needed.

All school buses and Specialised School Transport Assistance mobility services will run as normal on 24 and 25 March but only for students of working parents to provide them time to make arrangements.

Essential workers with children

Teachers and the children of essential workers (teachers, doctors, nurses etc) are allowed at school today and tomorrow, but on Thursday it will be a full shutdown for four weeks.

Secretary for Education Iona Holsted in a news conference today said children of essential workers who cannot stay home and required childcare, would need to identify a "trust buddy" - someone who is not elderly or vulnerable but could be considered part of the wider whānau.

That person would become a caregiver and also part of the family's self-isolated group, meaning they would need to limit any other contact.

"It is critical that that buddy cannot then have other contacts other than your own household. You all become one group, a tight knit group, and the smaller, the better," Holsted said.

Another example is helping a family with a disabled child of a primary care worker to give them time to rest.

"But again, you need to be identified as part of self-isolation group and you cannot have other contacts other than those of your own household," she said.

School holidays

The government has brought forward the April school holidays so that now it's from 30 March to 14 April

At the end of the holidays, schools will be open for distance learning but not physically open.

Principals say that will give teachers time to prepare for online learning once the holidays finish.

Learning from home

Yesterday, the Ministry of Education launched the Learning from home and Ki te Ao Mārama websites to support teachers, parents, and whānau in helping children to continue to learn.

More resources will be added to the websites as they are developed.

The ministry is developing resource kits for children who are likely to require additional learning resources in their homes.

It says it will work with early learning providers over the coming weeks to discuss how these will be distributed and how to access them.

The ministry is also advising people to put together small packs for students or learners at home, which could including reading material and activities they're used to doing.

Hard copy packs are being prepared for learners and whānau who don't have connectivity at home, the ministry's said.

Secretary for Education Iona Holsted said the ministry would be working over the next few weeks to deliver sourced devices to students who need them.

However, internet connection is also another problem they were dealing with in areas of low-decile schools, Holsted said.

She said they were working with Crown-owned N4L to set up connections in those places, however in the circumstance that it doesn't work then they would deliver hard copies of resources.

Ministry staff will be available to ring and Skype with families who require assistance with children who have special needs.

Parents and caregivers can also contact their school or teacher for support with learning resources or ask for course work or activities related to what would normally be covered.

Students are also encouraged to do their own research, so that by the time they return to school they are ready to contribute to class discussions.

Auckland Secondary Principals Association president Richard Dykes told Morning Report that parents and caregivers teaching their children at home need to look after their wellbeing as much as learning.

"I think they're both really important, I think as a school we're going to do our darndest to make sure that we also maintain some community, because we're really aware adolescents they want social contact, we want to provide positive contact and make sure they still feel connected, because if they're in that space then the learning can happen."

Tips for parents and students from the ministry:

  • Depending on their age, students can be encouraged to read, or be read to. They can also help, by reading to their younger siblings, if they're also home.
  • Keeping a journal or scrapbook during the time period is a way for them to collect and create. These could incorporate drawings, photos, plans and stories of things they've done, all of which will help their literacy skills.
  • Helping out with cooking and baking makes use of their maths skills and shows them how maths is all around them. Helping with housework also teaches your child lots of important skills about being organised, teamwork, co-operating and contributing.
  • Talk to your child about how (critical) thinking is important to make sense of everything they do at school and at home. Find some news items or opinion pieces, and discuss whether you each agree with what's been said. Why? Why not?

NCEA students

NZQA earlier had advised schools that they can tailor their programmes so that students can be assessed against fewer standards than planned for in a normal school year, and still meet the requirements for NCEA.

For internal assessments, it says it will support schools "to provide credible ongoing assessment opportunities through remote learning".

And for external assessments, it would support schools to "generate grades derived from a student's learning programme ... This could eliminate the need for practice examinations."

Over coming weeks, NZQA says it will work on helping with distance learning where it is most needed and contingency planning in case the four-week period is further extended.

"We are working to establish online learning and distance learning options to support all children's ongoing learning. These will be made available by the end of the school holidays."

Secretary for Education Iona Holsted said she expected most senior secondary schools to be able to provide online learning, and for students to use their time wisely to study.

"NCEA is not at risk yet, and assessments will need to be shifted around a bit. If this is prolonged of course it will be affected and NZQA will provide advice to those schools and kids as to what they need to do."

Glendowie College principal Richard Dykes, who is also president of the Auckland Secondary Principals Association, told Morning Report that parents and caregivers should be patient and kind to teachers and staff who were under immense pressure now.

"We need to act quickly but we also really need to be calm and methodical ... the danger is if we rush we're going to make mistakes.

"Schools are working as fast and hard as they can but they also need to be working methodically through things and get it done right."

In regards to distance learning, he said it was important to understand teachers would do their best to continue to educate, but that most schools had always been set up for face-to-face learning.

"It won't be the same as normal classes but together we're going to do our best."

While essential workers' children would be allowed to come in today and tomorrow, further arrangements would be managed on a case-by-case basis, Dykes said.

"I made it really clear when I was talking to the ministry that if that was a long-term solution then it'd probably be more that we'd be looking after them rather than teach them, because it'd be a struggle to do distance learning and face-to-face teaching as well.

"Every school is going to be different because it will depend on the number of students."

Dykes has also moved to reassure students who are worried about their NCEA exams and results.

"I've said 'be assured we'll stand by you'. So if they've got deadlines, I've told my staff to let those go out a little bit further."

He said people can rest assured that schools would take charge and give more advice in coming days.

Tertiary students

NZQA says providers could consider rescheduling course start and end dates, or holidays and deliver theory learning via email or online platforms they already have in use.

Medical research at tertiaries that is required for combatting Covid-19 is recognised as an essential service.

The Ministry of Education's website states that providing services for students who are unable to leave residential accommodation so that they can self-isolate is an essential service. This includes on-campus medical services, catering, pastoral care and other services.

Residential facilities must support remaining students to self-isolate and strictly enforce personal distancing and hygiene requirements.

International students who are in Homestay or Hostel accommodation will need to also have continuous support and be housed during this period.

AUT has announced that it is bringing forward the mid-semester break to start from tomorrow to 22 April, and the academic year would be restructured. Assessment deadlines will also be postponed.

Its campus sites will be shut except for essential services, like student accommodation support and security. Further information on AUT's response is available here.

The University of Auckland had already planned to use this week as a Teaching Free Week, to prepare online teaching resources.

Its campus will also be shutting and only essential services will be allowed to continue. More information for the University of Auckland is available here.

Other universities have also implemented those moves. Relevant information can be found on their websites: Massey University, the University of Otago, Victoria University of Wellington, and University of Canterbury.

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