Canberra schools will be closed for at least two months longer than schools across the border in New South Wales to minimise the spread of coronavirus.
- The ACT Government has ruled out a staggered re-introduction of school classes in term two, which NSW is planning
- Education Minister Yvette Berry says Canberra schools are better prepared for online lessons than other jurisdictions
- Private school teachers say combining remote and face-to-face classes is more work and less effective
ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry has committed the city’s public schools to remote classes for at least all of term two, while the NSW Government is planning for students to start returning to the classroom in three weeks’ time.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said yesterday schoolchildren in her state would begin a staggered return to classes on Monday, May 11.
Schools there will initially welcome students one day a week and gradually increase attendance — unless the risk of infection to children or teachers is growing.
The plan involves about a quarter of the children in each grade going to classes each day.
However, Ms Berry ruled out a similar approach in Canberra, for now.
She said the ACT was better placed than other jurisdictions to deliver education online, in part because it had been giving students Chromebooks for years.
“So we were ahead of the pack anyway, in that,” she said yesterday.
“We always said that we would move to remote education for the whole of term two, and then we would consider what term three would look like.
“Our schools are prepared and ready, and have developed education models for online education and that will be delivered remotely, either for students who are at school, or for students who are at home.”
Government announces ‘hub’ schools to remain open
ACT schools were closed to most students a month ago as part of the Government’s efforts to contain the contagious virus COVID-19.
About 3 per cent of public school pupils have continued to attend, mostly because their parents can not work from home or because they are at-risk students.
For the roughly 1,600 students who will attend classes in term two, Education Minister Yvette Berry said nine school sites would be open — though they would not be offering face-to-face teaching.
The schools offering supervision for students to conduct online learning are:
- Caroline Chisholm School
- Charles Weston School
- Gordon Primary
- Mawson Primary
- Amaroo School
- Majura Primary
- Kingsford Smith
- Maribyrnong Primary
- Red Hill Primary
Canberra’s four specialist schools — Black Mountain School, Cranleigh School, Woden School and Malkara School — also remain open.
But Ms Berry added that if any children were taken to their original schools — which were no longer operational — staff would be on site to meet them and ensure they were taken to an operational school.
She said parents who had registered the need for their child to attend a hub site would receive information from the Government this evening, telling them which school their child could attend.
Ms Berry said the Government had moved to consolidated sites to ensure ACT students had “equitable access to high-quality learning”.
“This model allows us to redirect cleaners to ensure the best intensive cleaning of all our other school sites, ensure that students who do have to attend school have enough supervision while they’re there, and, importantly, allow teachers to focus on delivering brilliant remote learning,” she said.
She also said the Government was looking at facility upgrades for some schools while they were empty.
NSW plan ‘might be a little chaotic’
Ms Berry said she would “look very carefully” at the NSW approach throughout the term and examine “the pros and cons”, but seemed sceptical.
“And from what I’m seeing, the response back from different parts of the community is that it feels like it might be a little bit chaotic and a little bit confusing for parents and family,” she said.
She also pointed to Queensland, where the online education system had crashed this week, on its first day of the state’s schooling term.
It was easier in Canberra — a relatively small, contained city-state — to ensure that parents and students were well placed to study at home, Ms Berry said.
“We’ve been developing this remote education for a number of weeks now. It’s ready to be delivered,” she said.
“We don’t want to confuse our families any more than they are.”
‘Teachers should only be teaching once’: union
Meanwhile, the union that represents teachers at independent private schools has criticised the NSW decision, saying the state government had placed teachers at risk without consulting them.
The Independent Education Union’s NSW and ACT secretary, Mark Northam, said teachers were keen to return to class but not “at the expense of their personal safety”.
“To date, we have been largely left out of the decision-making process,” he said,
He said in a statement that teachers could provide effective distance education if they were supported to do it.
But in the lockdown’s early stages, many had been expected to teach both face-to-face in class and online to students at home.
“This dual responsibility of delivering both remote and physical lessons effectively doubled the workload of teachers,” he said.
“Staff were obliged to continue working in confined spaces with large numbers of people and inadequate access to [protective equipment].”
He said there should be one mode of instruction — “teachers should only be teaching once” — and the return to a hybrid model would be less effective.
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