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‘Don’t rush the learning’: Balance needed as students adapt to online classes

Last Updated May 7, 2020 at 5:20 pm MDT

A empty hallway is pictured at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 23, 2020. Bored and isolated students are spending too many hours online and some have started using more substances, but all students will need extra emotional support when classes resume, says a psychiatrist who specializes in youth mental health. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — With the school year approaching conclusion in Alberta, teachers and students alike have had a challenging time adapting to the new situation.

Online at-home learning is new territory for most people and has involved a steep learning curve, with some concerns arising around if students are not getting enough of proper education as a result.

“It was a little bit of a traumatizing thing,” said Alberta Teachers Association President Jason Schilling about the first days when classes were cancelled, and the new situation came about.

Under the system, which was adopted fairly quickly, lower grade students receive five hours of instruction per week with a focus on math and literacy and high school students getting three hours per course.

“It is a significant shift in difference,” said Dr. Michael Nelson, Director for Teaching and Learning with Technology and Learning Resources with the Calgary Board of Education.

“What I’ve seen from teachers is some teachers were meeting regularly, sometimes daily, sending lots of work and then they had some students say that was a bit overwhelming. We had other teachers maybe sending a few assignments and students and parents were saying we want more work.”

The CBE is doing 20,000 virtual sessions a week, with thousands of online classrooms and other technology being used to provide the best situation possible.

It has been a tough balance in some situations though, and Schilling said there are teachers worried about students who have “gone dark” and they haven’t had any connection with them recently.

On Wednesday, the province also outlined three scenarios for the fall semester: total reopening of schools and a return to normal, partial reopening with some restrictions, and a continuation of online at-home learning.

While no timelines have been set up yet, it is already clear some preparation will be needed in order to make sure students and teachers are ready for any scenario.

“All families are different, all students and learners are different. So, we’re here to work closely with our parents as we move forward,” said Dr. Bryan Szumlas, Chief Superintendent of the Calgary Calgary School District.

“Having supports, like (educational assistants) and other support staff, in the classroom will be really key in the fall to help work with students and address the needs they may come with,” said Schilling.

But even while there are several pressing concerns coming from all sides, a priority also needs to be put on the mental health of both students and teachers, so they do not become overwhelmed.

“The connection between teacher and student is so valuable,” said Nelson, “so if we can see our students — potentially partially with appropriate social distancing — we’ll do that. However, what is fundamentally most important is the safety of our staff and our students.”

The boards and the teachers association are confident there will be continued conversations with the province and they will get ample notification of what the situation will be in September, and the adaption that has taken place at the end of this semester will have to continue.

“We need to work on not trying to recreate the classroom at home right now, and take that pressure off, because it’s just not viable,” said Schilling.

The anxieties and stresses that have been created through the loss of social connections will continue in other forms next year as well, especially if physical distancing requirements remain in place and classes look vastly different in order to fall in line with public health guidelines.

Therefore, a balance must be found and proper priorities have to be identified.

“Care for our children’s mental health first,” Szumlas stressed.

“Children have to feel safe and comfortable before they can learn. And so, we as adults and family members have to keep that in mind and don’t rush the learning.”