Arviat students still awaiting computers to help with remote learning

Nunavut Coalition of District Education Authorities says government “dropped the ball” during COVID-19 lockdown

Children play in the Joamie School playground in Iqaluit. Elementary students return to school today across most of Nunavut. The exception is Arviat, which continues to be in full lockdown. (File photo)

By Meagan Deuling
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As students in Nunavut’s COVID-19 hot spot of Arviat continue to learn from home, the territory’s education minister says his department hasn’t yet been able to deliver computers to students to help with remote learning.

“We’re still dealing with the logistics of deploying to the affected communities,” said Education Minister David Joanasie on Monday about delivery of computers to students.

Schools in communities other than Arviat are reopened to varying degrees today, following the end of a two-week lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Nunavut has 800 electronic devices — computers and tablets — for students to do homework on, Joanasie said.

“I don’t have a breakdown of how many [students] will be able to have access [to computers and internet] as of Wednesday,” Joanasie said.

The department “dropped the ball” on preparing teachers, parents and students to continue learning while schools on are shut down, said James Arreak, chairman of the Nunavut Coalition of District Education Authorities.

The department ordered teachers to prepare learning packages for students in September in case schools had to close. But Arreak said there have been problems with teachers communicating to parents how to give lessons to their children at home.

Right now teachers are trying to communicate through email, and not all parents have computers or access to the internet. Arreak also said instructions shouldn’t just be given in English, but in Inuktut.

“It’s one thing to have learning resources prepared, but it should be done with a bit more practicality,” Arreak said.

He asks why the department couldn’t use communication methods that people are familiar with and have access to, like local radio.

The department is forcing teachers, parents and students to adapt to it, instead of the department adapting to local circumstances, Arreak said.

The coalition’s role is to be partners with the department to help develop and deliver education. “At this point, the government is doing it all [on] their own,” he said.

“It’s evident the department lost focus,” Arreak said. “Maybe they’re tired.”

Most of Nunavut ends its COVID-19 lockdown on Wednesday, with the exception of Arviat, where the highest number of people are infected, and there are signs of community transmission. The community has 854 students. Public health restrictions there will be reassessed on Dec. 16.

There are also people sick with COVID-19 in Rankin Inlet and Whale Cove, but the virus is thought to be contained there, so schools have reopened. Elementary students are going to class three days a week, and high school students two days a week, as per Nunavut’s school reopening plan.

“Remote learning doesn’t necessarily mean computer, computer, computer,” Joanasie said, in response to questions about why his department wasn’t more prepared for a community being locked down for an extended period of time.

Teachers have been creative in getting learning packages to students during the lockdown, he said.

For example, in Pangnirtung learning packages were dropped off and picked up at the post office, Joanasie said. In Whale Cove, the RCMP have been dropping off homework at students’ homes.

But Arreak said what really matters is that teachers are coping, able to communicate to parents and students, and that their instructions are understood, so students can learn.

He also said it’s key for teachers to be able to enter schools so they can prepare learning packages and use the internet to communicate with parents.

On Wednesday, Nunavut chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson said he was fine with teachers in Arviat using their classrooms to prepare materials. But he didn’t know if the Department of Education or the local DEA was allowing it.

The federal government has committed funding to Nunavut, some of which is to buy computers and to expand internet capacity. There are 1,500 more computers on the way to Nunavut, and the department plans to buy 2,192 more.

The department also bought a licence for an online learning platform called Edsby, which isn’t yet available.

In Rankin Inlet and Whale Cove, where there are people with COVID-19 but no signs of community transmission, all students are doing a combination of remote and classroom learning. In the rest of the territory elementary students are back to class full time, and middle and high school students will go two to three days a week with staggered schedules.

Nunatsiaq News asked to speak to a teacher or principal from Arviat, but the Education Department has yet to respond to the request. It also reached out to the Arviat DEA and has yet to hear back.

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(8) Comments:

  1. Posted by Nunavut Teacher on

    This is hilariously frustrating. We were all told back in September that the GN had procured laptops and iPads for ALL students across Nunavut and that we would be using Edsby if schools had to close again. We were told to ONLY prepare 5-day take-home packages. Then, when we actually closed down, suddenly 10 day packages were needed within 24 hours (for many teachers, that was fine, but we should have been told to prepare more work in advance just in case — I had a month’s worth ready and I’m sure others did, too) .

    We had also been told that all students across Nunavut would have a chance to “play around” with the tech *before* it was sent home so that they’d be familiar with Edsby. This, of course, never happened.

    The Minister says we shouldn’t be reliant on “computers, computers, computers” — but the GN is the one who emphasized remote computer learning as the answer in the first place, confusing everyone, including the kids — who were very excited to be able to use laptops at home!

  2. Posted by Tracy Mac on

    This is more than laughable. Not only could the GN not implement Edsby or get technology to communities who need it for remote learning, it couldn’t even organize a schedule that worked for teacher training on the subject. Edbsy has no Inuktut function, but Edsby recommends Google Translate!! How will Google Translate work when dialects are so varied that communities that find themselves in the same regions cant successfully understand one another. The IDEA calling the Dept out last year has ruined this year.. how you ask? Will the optics looked really bad last year when nothing was done to address the situation. So, this year the appearance that a lot was done like having laptops (NOT), and using Edsby (NOT). The only thing that’s working, like always, is the teachers who are making learning packages and communicating with parents. Remember remote learning is not all teachers, teachers, teachers…

    • Posted by Nunavut Teacher on

      Exactly. The lack of Inuktitut on Edsby is a dealbreaker for the elementary teachers and students at our school — AND for their parents! I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on licensing it.

  3. Posted by Remote learning? on

    What these teachers cant make work plans for students? What do they need computers and internet for anyway? What is wrong with a plain old textbook?
    .
    Give a teenage boy a computer and a wi-fi connection and believe me, the last thing he’ll be doing is schoolwork.

    • Posted by Nunavut Teacher on

      I guess reading is not your forte. It was not teachers’ idea in the first place to send students home with laptops and wifi — lots of us thought it was a terrible idea. If you want to be cranky with someone, be cranky with the GN. *eyeroll*

    • Posted by Nunavut Teacher on

      I do completely agree with you about teenage boys and computers, though! Have you heard of PUBG? The latest Nunavut teen boy craze! 😉

      • Posted by Patrick Coutu on

        I somewhat agree that teens will tend to surf the web instead of doing their work in class during even normal conditions. I know because I was a certified computer teacher in Arviat before C-19 closed schools. This is where parents come in. Parents should be able to supervise their children to some extent at home. What is true is that the internet is the largest electronic library ever conceived. And so we might wonder, is it fair that Nunavummiut students don’t have the same access to the world’s largest library that students in the rest of Canada have? What is lacking is the infrastructure for broadband internet across the far north. The speed of doing business contributes to economic competitiveness. And it goes without saying that education and libraries of information go hand in hand. Ottawa needs to do something about the infrastructure deficit as well as the “new infrastructure gap” that has accumulated over the years and estimated to be worth over $100 billion dollars in each category. Infrastructure deficits across Canada have become glaringly noticeable in 2020.

  4. Posted by Bbff on

    I’m in Arviat my child has not had a phone call, nor any learning packages, photo copies nothing at all for both lock downs. Who’s managing these teachers, they’re getting paid for doing nothing! My child is suffering because of this- at least a photo copy or worksheets and something to read would be good. March to June nothing and now nothing again. Maddening!!

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