Remote learning causing gap between haves and have-nots, says school leader

‘For so many of our students being in this building day-to-day is a safe place,’ says Inuksuk high school’s vice-principal

For the second year in a row, students at Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit are entering the end of the school year remotely. (Photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

By Mélanie Ritchot

With schools closed amid Iqaluit’s ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, some high school students are managing better than others.

“Remote learning highlights the disparity between the haves and the have-nots,” said Craig MacGregor, the vice-principal of Inuksuk high school.

“It just further disadvantages those who are already disadvantaged.”

Those who disengage from school may have other responsibilities during the pandemic, like caring for siblings or working an essential job to support their family, said MacGregor.

They may also lack consistent access to internet and food.

Those who are more likely to succeed with learning at home tend to have support. But for others, home is not an ideal place to learn.

“For so many of our students, being in this building day-to-day is a safe place when perhaps they might not have such a safe space [at home.]”

He said staff are “definitely” seeing disengagement among certain students.

“We have significant worry on our shoulders about the well-being of our students,” MacGregor said.

A lack of food in some households is present, with the school’s food bank shut down until staff get further direction from the chief public health officer and the Department of Education about how to operate within public health guidelines.

When the school was open, students had breakfast provided to them every day and hot lunches were served three times per week. Students and their families also had access to Inuksuk’s in-house food bank.

“Currently, none of that is available to them … teachers, staff, they worry about that,” said MacGregor.

One of the hardest parts, he said, is not knowing how long the lockdown will go on for.

This is particularly troubling for graduating students, since they don’t yet know how final exams will take place. The department of education has yet to give direction on that.

Despite the challenges, MacGregor said he doesn’t expect grades to drop significantly, based on how last year’s lockdown and school closures went.

“We certainly planned and anticipated that success rates could be down,” he said. “We came back and we were actually doing quite well compared to a ‘normal’ year.”

But, for students who can’t engage in remote learning, there certainly could be gaps, he said.

“I have to recognize the dedication of my staff … they try their very best to connect to those students to try and support them as best as we can.”

At the high school, teachers are responsible for upwards of 100 students, as many teach five different classes of about 25 students.

On top of that, many teachers have their own school-aged children at home who are learning remotely. “It is a huge workload.”

Some students are getting course work online, while others get printed packages, depending on the availability of a reliable internet connection and a device.

Grade 11 and 12 students have devices provided by the Government of Nunavut, but there aren’t enough for the younger grades, MacGregor said. The school has also been able to provide some devices to students considered high-need.

MacGregor said there may be a misconception that online schooling in Nunavut looks the same as it does in Canada’s southern provinces, with virtual classes being streamed over programs like Zoom.

“The bandwidth is poor and unreliable,” he said. “We’re not able to facilitate live classes or video conferencing.”

Through the GN, each device has access to 10 GB of data per month, MacGregor said. This includes devices used by teachers and the students who have them.

Some teachers are using their personal internet to deliver Zoom classes, “but we really have to keep that to a minimum,” he said.

“Teaching is a caring profession,” said MacGregor. “We have a really dedicated group of educators in this community.”

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(16) Comments:

  1. Posted by Northener on

    Safe place hahaha! Inside maybe, perhaps the teachers should spend time outside. It’s non stop bullying, fighting,

    • Posted by Kyle on

      There is also discrepancy between kids who get parenting and those who do not. Covid has only emphasized this by the amount of partying going on. And as a result more kids out at all hours.

      The bullying at the high school seems to go unpunished. Anywhere else in Canada if you bring a weapon (knife) to school, and threaten to use it on a student, you get permanently suspended.
      The high school here really needs to step up security. There are too many violent bullies getting away with smuggling weapons to school. Its time we protected our future and our kids. Its no wonder so many kids drop out, would you go to school if you didn’t feel safe there?

      • Posted by Uvanga on

        Ma ybe you aren’t aware that in our 24 communities there is only one elementary school and one high school if even, at most times both elementary and high school are in one building. Unless they create an alternative school like a lot of cities have down south then its next to impossible to keep the ones that do not follow the rules out of school for a long period of time. I think everyone agrees that children should not have to fear going to school. I think solutions for the problem is a good mix,

  2. Posted by Uvanga on

    I am happy to see the advocacy happening here from the school for the children that do not have the support from their homes as well as the potential abuse that they may suffering at their homes because of addictions. There are too many people who come from down south to work up here and say that all kids are ok just because they don’t experience nor do they know anyone that goes through that. Acknowledgement of the disparity of the students within our Iqaluit schools is indeed very large and the poverty in some of the kids homes are very real where some turn a blind eye too. Please keep advocating for the children that have to go home to their alcoholic home where there is no food or in a lot of cases are scared to go home and stay out all hours of the night. Let’s keep advocating for our children.

  3. Posted by Northern Guy on

    Let’s be clear, whether you are a so-called “have” or “have-not” student what is happening in Iqaluit right now cannot be described as “remote learning” by any definition of the term. The Edsby platform is a way for teachers to dump homework assignments onto students with zero associated instruction, leaving it to parents who are already busy working remotely or as essential employees with the responsibility of educating these kids. Maybe the Department of Education should transfer those big fat teacher salaries to overworked parents because the teachers themselves sure aren’t earning them right now.

    • Posted by Karen on

      What exactly do you expect teachers to do? They have 0 control over this. They have not been given the resources nor any sort of direction from the Dept. of Ed to be able to deliver any sort of quality or equitable at home learning. It’s the higher ups who have fallen short and yet teachers are blamed, again and again.

      • Posted by Northern Guy on

        Teachers could start by making themselves available to answer questions from students when they are having trouble understanding a concept or problem. Do you know how many of my child’s high school teachers have reached out to him to see how he is doing or responded to the questions he has posted on Edsby in relation to his assignments? Absolutely none! Do your jobs before you demand our respect and start blaming “higher ups”.

    • Posted by Homeschool parent on

      The 8 teachers didn’t like your comment. There is no “teaching” going on, it’s here is all the subject matter, good luck.

    • Posted by Snappy 20 on

      Northern Guy is not living in the same reality as the rest of us. Teachers are doing the best they can in an impossible situation. There deserve our gratitude for all they do.

      • Posted by Hmm on

        Teachers are the only one struggling right now? They are certainly being the most vocal about it. No one seems to think of the kids struggling. As others have said EDSBY is a poor band aid. Teachers take a week to respond to messages and emails, and that’s for the ones that use Edsby.

  4. Posted by a hard worker on

    Teachers should have to stay up here and teach over the summer. They’re getting their holiday now and will still get it in June. Then July and August? Keep the teachers up here and working over the summer. If the kids are on holiday then reassign the teachers to other gn work for the summer.

  5. Posted by Gerry on

    Why weren’t the teachers assigned to other GN roles instead of sitting at home doing nothing?

  6. Posted by not teacher on

    Teachers are doing the best they can with the limited amount of resources. Dept of Ed is not providing teachers with additional internet and also laptops +wingle sticks are only for grade 11 and 12. Edsby is a pain but I promise once your kid works out the kinks, it gets by. Not the same as in person learning or zoom calls (a joke to even suggest this with our internet) . Teachers are available on edsby during school hours to help kids with work, or so have been my experience. I understand not every kid has the capability or capacity to sit in front of a screen with little supervision for schooling. But teachers are not at fault here. Iqaluit have met the 0-2 household transmissions and 80% first vaccine for adults. Paterson had said these are criterias of lifting some restrictions, why are we still in lockdown? Stage 3 of schooling with kids going to school in cohorts half time and mask mandatory makes more sense now.

    • Posted by High school parent on

      I just hear excuses. The internet is far better then most people give it credit for. The same people streaming 4k Netflix whine when they can’t or when they have reached their internet usage cap in a week.

      As for saying teachers don’t get provided internet etc,? I have yet to see anything posted that would tax anyone’s internet. Most teachers upload pdf files and links to videos, hardly taxing on internet. Most of the kids using EDSBY get no hand outs for internet, their parents just pay it themselves, and while working from home. Some teachers do not even provide any work on Edsby, Inuktitut as a second language has had 0 work in a month. People want to save the language then maybe it’s time to actually teach it.

      The kids who have no internet in high school are the losers, they get no help. The grade 9s were told that they were not priority for internet or laptops.

  7. Posted by Canada wide issue on

    Nice to see that some commenters actually have some valid and true points, but I guess these are just from parents and not from the constant complainers, including John.
    All, do yourselves a favor and simply go on CBC or Goggle and verify how successful remote learning/educations actually was in all Canadian provinces and Territories. The lack of devices and Internet was an issue in all 13 Prov./Terr, and it was resolved as much and as fast as possible. World wide shortages of devices (remember the toilet paper) are not made-up stories.
    Students are not the only ones that suffer, parents who can’t even keep the attention of their kids beyond 30 minutes, teachers who never were trained for remote learning deliveries and of course our poor students who can only focus on video games, snapshot, Facebook and other Social Media apps for longer then an hour. Who is to blame???? Parents, look into the mirror, students, get of your butt and focus on what’s actually written in books (it’s called old school), teachers, step outside your comfort zone and the “higher ups” in the Education departments, support your schools better with directions that can be accomplished.

    John, stop bitching about, computers, Internet, food insecurity,all all the other excuses. If a teacher can only deliver curriculum via Zoom or any other video conference, get better teachers. Look at other countries, ever heard about Australia?

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