20 Apr 2020

Covid-19: Principals warn students could fall behind with remote learning

10:15 am on 20 April 2020

Secondary principals are worried students from poor families and those studying practical subjects are falling behind as they contemplate several more weeks of remote learning.

Glendowie College principal Richard Dykes

Auckland Secondary Principals Association president Richard Dykes. Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

They say it is potentially a big problem for poor communities and and one principal expects some Year 13 students will need to return to school next year.

The Education Ministry has prioritised senior secondary students for free laptop, chromebook computers and internet connections, and principals had expected the government would also prioritise those students, Years 11-13, for a return to school.

Instead, the government said those students would not be allowed to return to school when the country moves to alert level 3. Students up to Year 10 would be permitted to return if they could not learn from home or if their parents needed to return to work.

The principal of Otahuhu College in Auckland, Neil Watson, said remote learning was having a huge impact on poor communities where many families had no or limited internet access.

He said he expected the Qualifications Authority would ease NCEA requirements. That would reduce student stress, but they still needed to learn all the content for their courses.

"The assessment measures what you've learned, but it's the actual learning and knowledge that you need to be able to go forth," he said.

Watson said students would need catch-up classes and some might not be ready to graduate from school at the end of the year.

"We're presuming that level 3 will probably last for most of this term so we're going to have missed probably a third of the year's work in terms of valuable learning time for our senior students," he said.

"We'll look at them coming back for the first term or even the second term of 2021."

Watson said the lockdown had stopped assessments planned in the first term, and it looked set to affect more this term.

He said students of practical subjects like construction and food technology were extremely disadvantaged.

"Things like hospitality, building and construction, where they're actually making things is going to be almost non-existent in terms of what we can provide for them, so I think there are going to be a lot of subjects that are negatively impacted by having students working online."

Auckland Secondary Principals Association president Richard Dykes was another who was worried about students in practical subjects.

He said many would be making little progress while they were unable to attend school.

"A number of schools won't be running practical subjects," he said.

"Those subjects tend to be populated with at-risk students, not completely, let's not generalise there, but those students are going to be disadvantaged compared to subjects such as history such as geography which more easily translate to online learning."

Mangere College principal Tom Webb said a lot of his students did not have devices or internet access and they were at a big disadvantage during the lockdown.

He said they would need to catch up for lost time.

"Our main focus has been on getting our distance learning up and going.

"Some of the ideas that I've heard are maybe weekend catch-up sessions or holiday catch-up sessions, particularly on the more practical subjects where you might be able to do some theory but the practical side of the subject isn't being done at the moment."

Webb said students needed to learn all their course content, and schools were hoping the Qualifications Authority would reduce the number of NCEA assessments so they could focus on that.

"The thing that fewer assessments will do is reduce the stress levels for everybody and so allow us to spend more time focusing on the learning and less time focusing on the assessments," he said.

Leave decision on student numbers to schools - Teaching Council

Meanwhile, the Teaching Council wants principals to have the final say on how many students can go back once the country moves to alert level 3.

It says each school is different and will need to carefully consider how many students it can safely teach on site.

The government wants parents who return to work during level 3 to be able to send their children to early childhood centres and schools. Education Ministry guidelines clarified at the weekend that, where they can, parents and caregivers should keep their children at home.

That does not satisfy the Teaching Council which says each school is different and will need to carefully consider how many students can be safely taught on site.

"We've had many people ... telling us of their situations that are unique," Teaching Council chief executive Lesley Hoskin said.

"Some are leadership teams that are vulnerable, many are staff who are vulnerable, if you think about the nature of the children they need to support, some of those support workers may not be available."

The council suggests allowing schools to work with families and communities to work out what is needed and how it can be done.

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