8 Apr 2020

Covid-19: Ministry of Education reveals support plans for distance learning

5:08 pm on 8 April 2020

Schools around the country will be given help to make sure students can still learn at home under lockdown, when term two officially starts on 15 April.

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Photo: Dom Thomas

Education Minister Chris Hipkins warned parents not to assume schools and early childhood centres will automatically reopen once New Zealand moves out of Level Four.

He said while the plan was still for a four-week lockdown, schools must be prepared for any scenario, which would require the means and resources to properly study at home, Hipkins said.

"We're moving so that all families will have at least one education delivery option available to them when term two starts," he said.

"The ministry has surveyed schools and about half say they are well set up currently for distance learning using the internet. But we are taking action to support new connections and resources for students at all schools."

From this week a package targeting four areas will be rolled out:

  • Increasing the number of students who have internet access and devices
  • Delivering hard copy packs of materials for different year levels
  • Funding two television channels to broadcast education-related content - one for English medium and one for Māori medium, including content that is targeted to Pacific and other communities
  • More online resources for parents, available through the Learning from Home and Ki te Ao Mārama websites, and fast-tracking ways to connect Learning Support Coordinators with families remotely

Schools will also get more support to to assist schools to set up and make the best use of distance learning, and teachers and leaders will get access to more professional learning and development (PLD) to support them to work remotely with their students.

About 17,000 digital devices have been purchased or leased by the government to supply to families that do not have one.

While everyone wanted to get kids back to school as soon as possible, Hipkins said parents should be realistic about what would happen once the lockdown started to lift.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

According to government advice, not all devices will arrive before 15 April, and it "may take up to a month for all of them to be sent to households".

"People should not assume that then means schools and early childhood services will all automatically reopen on day one."

The government was working on different scenarios "around how you would reopen the education system and under what circumstances some parts of that system may stay closed".

It was therefore working to support learning from home "for as long as we need to support it", he said.

National Party leader Simon Bridges said supporting remote learning in this way was a "no brainer".

While he personally did not have a firm opinion on when kids should go back to school, Bridges told reporters "there will be some parents out there who do".

Hipkins said more than 100,000 children (about 80,000 households) did not have access to a digital learning device.

He said the Ministry of Education was also looking at how it could safely gather devices sitting idle at schools to households that need them.

The devices and hard copies would be delivered in waves with a primary focus on senior secondary school students to limit the amount of disruption to their NCEA learning.

"We're anticipating a number of short term logistical challenges as you might imagine, with device availability and connectivity, so our plan is a pretty broad one," he said.

"This is a big and complex job being delivered at speed, and there are constraints around the stock of equipment in the country.

"Not everyone who needs them will get internet access, digital devices and hard packs at the same time.

"Where we are unable to immediately connect a household with the internet or get a device to a student, we will be working with schools and kura to provide hard-copy learning materials direct to homes."

Television broadcasting will begin on 15 April and Hipkins said about six and a half hours of educational content would be broadcast each day.

Subjects would include literacy, numeracy, science, music and physical education.

Advice and guidance would also be broadcast to parents on how to support learning in the home.

The MOE is in contact with well known New Zealand presenters to host the broadcasts.

To pay for it all, the government has fast tracked immediate emergency funding of $88.7m and it's likely that further funding will be required.

"We want to reassure people that we are mobilising all the resources we have available as fast as we can to prepare for all of the different possible scenarios that may eventuate at the end of this four week lockdown period," Hipkins said.

National's education spokesperson Nikki Kaye said the package was good first step, but many schools were reporting "significant financial challenges" which was a more fundamental and pressing problem.

She called for the government to address the viability of the whole sector and provide more support for parents and education workers.

There should also be a greater focus on students' mental health and upskilling support for those "displaced" because of Covid-19, she said.

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