15 Apr 2020

Distance learning begins for teachers and pupils

10:01 am on 15 April 2020

The second term of the school year starts today, but nobody is going to class.

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Students across the country will be connecting via Zoom, Google hangouts and other internet platforms today, as classrooms remain empty during lockdown. Photo: 123rf.com

Schools are in lockdown along with the rest of the country and more than 800,000 teachers and students are now starting two weeks of remote learning.

The curriculum leader for Year 7-8 at William Colenso College in Napier, Shyna Kesha, said she and other teachers were looking forward to getting back to teaching, even if it was via phone and internet.

"It will be great to see our kids again, I can't actually wait, I can't wait to see what they've been up to," she said.

"Students need their teachers, but teachers need their students as well."

Kesha said the focus would initially be on simply connecting with students.

"Making sure that they are emotionally okay, physically okay and just ensuring that they know that we are available to them," she said.

"It's really important to re-establish those relationships again, especially when our students are coming into a time when they don't have a full understanding of what school might look like."

Year 13 student at the college, Layla Christianson, said she was not worried by the prospect of online learning, and was grateful video-conferencing programs would let her talk directly with teachers about maths and physics concepts.

"I'm going to miss being able to have face-to-face contact with my teachers, but we have the Zoom lessons set up where you're still getting to talk to them," she said.

In Northland, Horahora School principal Pat Newman said his teachers would be asking children to do things with the rest of their family.

"I used to suggest a lot of baking, but flour's a bit hard to get. Checking the flowers that are out, checking what insects, how many birds you can see. If we can have families really getting together now that's the really important part that will last and will benefit society in future," he said.

Most teachers would be working with classes they already knew, but a few would be starting new jobs.

Among them is Laura Brennan, who would meet her students at Onehunga High School in Auckland for the first time today.

"I'm going to be introducing myself by a video which I'll be posting on Google classroom just explaining who I am and that I'm going to be their new teacher," she said.

"We're having Google hangouts and at that point I'll with the other teacher be introducing myself to the class as well so I'll be getting to know personalities through there and hopefully speaking to some of the students."

5000 laptops on the way

Minister of Education Chris Hipkins said 5000 laptops were on their way to students, a further 17,000 had been sourced and more still were being sourced on the open market.

"Of course everyone wants digital devices to work from home at the moment, so we're in the queue along with everybody else," he told Morning Report.

There are 80,000 households in New Zealand currently not connected to the internet, he said.

"We know we've got about 80,000 households that aren't currently connected and potentially up to about 145,000 students who fall into that category, it's one of the reasons we cannot rely exclusively on getting people connected digitally, particularly not in a very short space of time."

Digital devices were being supplemented with hard pack materials, Hipkins said.

"We're gearing up to be able to distribute up to half a million of those."

Hipkins said assessing which students might be able to resume face-to-face learning when restrictions were eased was based on managing risk factors.

"Early childhood students for example; the idea we could encourage social distancing in an early childhood environment where you've got three and four year olds charging around together, I think everyone would understand that there are limitations to that and saying they've got to play a metre apart from each other isn't really a realistic thing to do.

"On the other hand at the senior secondary level, as students get older, then their propensity to pick up Covid appears to be higher and so we're working through all of the different aspects of that at the moment."

New information on Covid-19 was becoming available all the time, he said.

"As more international studies continue to be released we start to understand a bit more what the true risk factors are and how we can best contain it."

The Education Ministry said it last week sent 23,664 hard-copy packs of education materials to children in Year 1-10 who attended decile 1-3 schools and it expected to send a further 40,000 this week.

It also sent yesterday laptop or chromebook computers to families that did not have one and expected to send at least 5000 this week.

In addition, two educational television channels start broadcasting today.

English-language content will air on TVNZ channel 2+1, TVNZ on Demand, and Sky Channel 502, while Maori Television will broadcast content in te reo Māori.

The channels will run from 9am to 3pm on school days.

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