All Grade 7-12 students in Manitoba will be learning remotely for the first two weeks after the start of school following the Christmas break, while those in lower grades will have the option of in-person or remote learning over that period, Manitoba’s education minister announced Dec. 2.
In-person learning will also be available to Grade 7-12 students with special needs that make learning in a classroom setting a must.
The mandated remote learning for older students will begin Jan. 4 and continue through Jan. 15. The province says evidence shows that older students are more likely to contract COVID-19 and have a larger number of close contacts and to transmit the virus to others as a result.
Regular classes for Grade 7 to 12 students will resume Jan. 18 unless public health conditions prevent it.
“We don’t want the education of our young people to stop,” said Education minister Kelvin Goertzen at a Dec. 2 press conference. “Where we can do so safely we want to do that.”
School District of Mystery Lake (SDML) students from kindergarten to Grade 8 have been attending classes in person five days a week since the beginning of the school year unless they have a medical condition that makes doing so unsafe. Grade 9-12 students at R.D. Parker Collegiate have been attending classes two days a week, participating in online learning one day and working independently the other two. Half the high school students attend their in-person classes on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half on Thursdays and Fridays. Online learning is provided for all students on Wednesdays.
Goertzen said he recognized that school divisions like SDML, where hundreds of students don’t have internet access at home, have additional challenges when it comes to delivering remote learning.
“There’s variability in the different parts of Manitoba when it comes to access to a variety of different things and certainly technology and internet connection is one of those,” the minister said. “While I know that there are other means by which there can be interaction and connection and we’ve supported those means it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a challenge. This is for a relatively short period of time and so that’ll be helpful. It’s not an undefined period of time.”
RDPC does have Chromebook laptops available for students who don’t have a way to access the internet and there is also a program to help those without internet access at home obtain it.
Education deputy minister Dana Rudy said that their experience with remote learning in the spring has helped the SDML as well as Frontier School Division to be prepared for this two-week period of delivering extra remote learning.
“They’ve been planning just like every other school divisions and trying to figure out how do they cater this to their particular student populations,” she said. “I would say that they’re just as ready as any other school division in terms of figuring out how to ensure that continuity of learning. It may not look the same. It may not be remote via digital it may be print-based but again we have a lot of confidence in those school divisions of the north in terms of their preparations that they’ve undertaken.”
The education minister also said he recognized that kindergarten to Grade 6 teachers are being asked to do a lot to prepare for both remote and in-class learning after the Christmas break during the final two weeks before it, in addition to teaching classes.
“This is obviously something that all of us in society are going through for the first time in our living memory and so the challenges are there in every profession and certainly teachers have stepped up well in a very, very difficult time. They’ve done a remarkable, remarkable job.”