25 Mar 2020

Teachers respond to challenge of online learning

8:05 am on 25 March 2020

Teachers are in class today for the last time before the lockdown begins and they are all preparing exactly the same lesson for the nation's 800,000 school children - that even during a global emergency there is no escape from school work.

Empty classroom

Students will be learning from home during the lockdown period. Photo: 123rf.com

Schools were open yesterday and today only for teachers and the children of essential workers.

Principals told RNZ their staff were using the time to get ready for teaching their students online once the lockdown begins tomorrow.

The four-week shutdown includes two weeks of holiday from Monday 30 March to Tuesday 14 April, which the government brought forward by two weeks to give teachers more time to prepare for distance learning.

At Somerfield School in Christchurch, principal Denise Torrey said there were only five children of essential workers in class yesterday and the school was trying to get its spare devices to children who did not have one at home.

She said teachers were already working with students through an online platform they had been preparing for a few weeks.

Though they were interacting online, teachers did not want their students to spend the entire lockdown glued to a device.

"We've got one of our learning support [staff] uploading science activities for them to do. We've suggested things like baking, so there are all of those sorts of things as well as the normal reading and mathematics things.

"They have listed activities that are physical activities and challenges that they can do as a family because we know it's going to be mum and dad and the kids at home in many cases," she said.

Dad Helping Girl Struggling With Studies

Teachers are trying to set activities that families can become involved in. Photo: 123RF

Torrey said teachers are motivated to keep their students learning.

"Teachers have gone into problem-solving mode. They want their kids to be safe, they want their kids to be well and they want their kids to learn as well."

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In Havelock North, the principal of Te Mata School, Mike Bain, said there were just 12 children in class yesterday and teachers had been using their last days on-site to prepare online programmes for learning from home.

He said teachers were not worried about children falling behind during the next four-and-a-half weeks, and parents shouldn't be either.

"To be fair we're not bothered about that, we'll pick the kids up when they arrive back at school," he said.

"The main concern for homes and families and for kids is about everyone being well and feeling supported rather than a genuine push that their job's now to become the teachers of their kids."

Bain said teachers were rising to the challenge of figuring out how to keep children learning and engaged from a distance.

"They're enthusiastic really. Once we've got to grips with the plan that our lives have changed, they're embracing the opportunity to support our kids and our families. There's a genuine enthusiasm about designing tasks that could be really cool."

In Auckland, the principal of Mangere College, Tom Webb, said students had mixed reactions to the news they would be off school until late April.

"There was a whole range of emotions and reactions from students, from sort of disappointment, anxiousness, excited from some, 'yes we're not having school' or from others really disappointed that they're not having school for up to four weeks."

Webb said the school was well prepared for teaching online, though a fair number of students were likely to have only limited access to the internet.

The Education Ministry said it was trying to get devices to children in poor communities who did not have one.

It also launched a website giving teachers and parents advice and resources for keeping education going at home.

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