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
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.”