A walkway at Yellowknife's St Pat's high school. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Online learning “is not being pursued” for evacuee students, the NWT government said after Premier Caroline Cochrane hinted at e-learning as a way to start the school year.
While virtual learning was critical to the NWT’s Covid-19 response, the territory’s teachers’ association immediately opposed the suggestion after Cochrane said on Sunday that “lessons we learned in Covid should be able to be implemented.”
“The education system cannot ‘pivot’ back to virtual learning. The premier’s comments were deeply concerning,” NWT Teachers’ Association president Matthew Miller told Cabin Radio by email.
“It is crucial to emphasize that these remarks are of particular concern due to the unique challenges we are all currently facing due to the wildfires,” he wrote.
“The NWTTA believes the safety and well-being of all of our community members should remain our topmost priority at this time. It is our position that implementing virtual learning does not align with these priorities. These statements resulted in an immediate response from members, increasing stress and anxiety for people in an already challenging situation.”
Late on Monday morning, the NWT government said in a brief statement: “Online learning is not being pursued at this time.”
That statement added: “Earlier today, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment met with education bodies to discuss options for schooling, including the likely possibility that the start of school in evacuated communities will be postponed until there can be further review of options for elementary and high school students based on needs and resources.
“The deputy minister of Education, Culture and Employment will be available to answer questions during tonight’s 7pm press conference.”
Miller said teachers have no opportunity to access classrooms to “retrieve essential resources” during an evacuation, unlike the circumstances of the pandemic.
He said there was “uncertainty about the technological resources” available to students, while some teachers themselves were being hosted in areas with “insufficient or no internet connectivity.”
Yellowknife school boards earlier told the CBC starting the school year on time, a week from now, was unlikely.