The Covid-19 pandemic has not (yet) hit New Zealand’s education system. At the time of writing, schools and kura are open and the Ministry of Education’s Deputy Security Katrina Casey is publicly stating that here is no rational reason to change this. In other words, it’s business as usual.
While we all hope that remains the case, the situation could change rapidly. In a statement to Interface, Katrina Casey says that if it does, the Ministry is in a position to respond quickly. “We are planning for temporary school closures as part of our broader Covid-19 planning. We are also planning for what students will need so they can continue learning should their school or kura be closed for a time.”
The Ministry is this week undergoing a stocktake to find out how prepared schools are to shift to an online environment. Staff are calling every school and kura to find out if their teachers can provide online learning, if all their students can access virtual learning resources, how many would likely miss out and what can be done to ensure every student can continue to learn.
While the Ministry is working with education sector groups and principals in its planning and preparedness, it’s a good time for everyone to think carefully about how they would respond if our schools and kura were closed tomorrow. We are fortunate in that New Zealand is behind other nations in the spread of Covid-19 – currently there are 11 confirmed cases – which means we have the opportunity to learn from experiences overseas.
Here are some questions and ideas that you might want to consider. We’ve divided it into categories – technical, virtual learning, and support and communication.
New Zealand is fortunate to have world-class broadband networks, which provide an average download speed of almost 33Mbps. But not all households are connected – in Census 2018, 1.3m households stated that they had access to the internet, out of 1.5m total households stated. While those households that are connected may not have a home set-up that is suitable for virtual learning. Here are some things to consider to get technically ready:
- How many students would not be able to access online learning. This is an issue actively being considered by the Ministry of Education. Could your school provide devices to take home, and if so, what kind of agreement would you need to make with the parents/students using these devices?
- If a household doesn’t have internet access, then how could this be arranged? As above, it appears the Ministry is working on this issue, but you might want to check out information from organisations such as the 2020 Trust.
- Are your school’s IT systems capable of hosting online sessions with 30-50 active participants? How would your network cope if all your staff and students logged into the network at the same time?
- If you are teaching and taking a virtual lesson from home, does your device have the most current security software, consider too if your wifi router is secure. You will need to ensure your students’ information is safe.
- Do you have a good understanding about how to use the video conferencing tool that your school has nominated as the most appropriate for your students? Now is a good time to test it at home, maybe video call a colleague and try out the different functions.
- If you were to take a lesson from home, where would it take place, and how can you ensure that the people in your house wouldn’t interrupt (teachers are often parents too!).
- Once you have a found a space, think about what the camera will pick up – is it an environment you want your students to see?
- Tech companies have spent many years and dollars trying to win the minds and wallets of the education sector, now is their time to shine. Let them. A recent Google blog provided plenty of tips and ideas about how educators can use its online tools effectively – Google Hangouts can host up to 250 people, Google Docs enables comments for a two-way discussion on student’s work, while Quizzes in Google Forms provides the opportunity to spice up the lesson by holding a pop quiz for your students. Meanwhile, Microsoft Teams brings conversations, content, assignments, and apps together in one place. As a virtual meeting platform, Teams is designed to enable discussion, and its features allow for easy assignment distribution—no matter where people are located. To get started go here. Guidance for Parents & Guardians here.
Support and communication
- The Ministry of Education provides advice on how to look after your wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s really important that all of us look out for ourselves and each other and understand that we are likely feel uncertain and worried at times.
- As a school, how do you communicate to parents – is it by website, newsletter, app, Facebook, Twitter? It may be all those and more. If you have multiple channels, try to ensure a consistent message on all of them.
- Give some thought to the kind of advice you would provide parents if every student was sent home tomorrow. Some of the most helpful information from situations overseas suggests maintaining a routine, and ensuring children get some physical exercise (Ministry of Health guidelines for self-isolation explain that you can go outside as long as you limit your contact with others).
While this list isn’t exhaustive, we hope it provides you with some ideas to think about and discuss as we start to experience what it’s like to live and teach during a global pandemic. If you have come across some helpful websites, please email [Interface] and we can add it to this article.
Article by Sarah Putt