Education

NWT releases broad-brushstrokes plan to keep learning going


The territorial government on Monday evening released a six-page plan designed to guide how Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12 education will run in the face of Covid-19.

The decision to close the territory’s schools for the remainder of the academic year was taken last week. Since then, education officials have been scrambling to devise a path forward.

While maintaining some form of student learning is crucial, there are other key services at stake: for example, school-based food programs and mental health supports for youth.

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Important decisions set out in Monday’s document include:

  • the cancellation of Alberta Achievement Tests and Grade 12 Diploma exams for high-school students;
  • guidance on how many hours a week students should continue their learning at home;
  • what teachers’ roles will be; and
  • the ability to earn special credits for on-the-land learning.

The document also outlines in broad terms how services like counselling, healthy food programs, and assistive technology will be deployed.

In full: Read the NWT government’s six-page plan

“Flexibility is essential,” the NWT government tells parents, students, and teachers in an introduction to the document.

“Every NWT community, school, and household is unique, so approaches taken by education bodies and schools will vary based on factors such as the reliability and quality of community internet bandwidth, location of teachers, and whether students have access to the internet.

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“Parents will be contacted by their child’s school to discuss or share what continued learning options will look like for their child. They will also be provided with specific instructions about how they will be able to retrieve their child’s personal items from the school.”

Here’s a closer look at some of the document’s most important statements.

Report cards and exams

Students in all grades will still receive report cards with their final grades by June 30.

Teachers will continue to assess student progress over the next few months where possible, and will use that – along with a student’s in-class progress to date – to determine their final grade.

If teachers think a child should complete a grade again, they will contact parents by early May to begin that discussion.

Students with support plans or individualized education programs will have their plans updated, with help from parents, for the 2020-21 school year.

For students in Grades 10, 11, and 12, teachers will do their best to make sure students finish their current core subjects.

In some cases, this may involve giving high-school students different projects so they can finish their course and graduate on time.

To help students who can’t meet specific graduation requirements – for example, if they are missing a career and technology studies course, gym, or community service hours – schools can request to a course waiver.

Learning at home

The NWT government says some teachers could be reassigned to other roles helping communities get through the pandemic – like child care or working on meal programs.

Teachers who remain focused on education will be tasked with looking at their curriculums and seeing what is left to cover than can be covered at home, then designing projects that can be completed at home to meet those learning objectives.

The document says literacy, math, and health and wellness are the recommended focus areas for students in JK to Grade 9.

Students who use assistive technologies at school to help them learn, like iPads, will hear from their school soon about how to keep accessing learning aids over the next few months.

“Parents are children’s first teachers, and many parents are now in that position – literally,” reads the document, assuring parents that “valuable learning does not have to be in a ‘classroom’ and students don’t have to be in a ‘school’ to be taught important skills.”

The document says the difficulties of adjusting to this new way of studying will themselves form part of the learning experience.

“That learning may focus on simply adjusting to the new normal, following simple routines, managing emotions, learning self-regulation strategies, or practising a life skill such as tying shoes, cooking, or simple household chores,” the document states.

“This is all-important learning, so parents should embrace what they can and take it one step at a time.”

What if there’s no internet at home?

“During this time, teachers, parents, and students are encouraged to communicate with each other using various technologies and tools that best suit their situations,” reads the document.

However, education officials acknowledge not all homes have internet or computer access to remain regular contact.

Schools will distribute paper-based assignments and school supplies to students in need, the document states.

Educators will phone families and students to check in and provide support. Local radio stations, Indigenous governments, and municipal offices may also be called on to offer support and share information.

The plan at home, grade by grade

Here’s the grade-by-grade plan for continued learning at home, as set out in the document:

Junior Kindergarten and Kindergarten (JK/K)

  • Education content will focus on learning through play, natural curiosity and hands-on experiences.
  • Children in JK/K have spent a lot of time playing and learning with their peers. They can continue doing this at home with their family!
  • Teachers will recommend different opportunities for children to learn through play, to inquire, explore and discover for an average of 3 hours per week for most students at these grade levels.

Grades 1-3

  • Education content will focus on language/literacy and mathematics/numeracy and health and wellness outcomes of the territorial curriculum.
  • Learning and using language (reading, writing, presenting) as well as numeracy (patterns, numbers, distances, navigating) are important areas to focus on.
  • Teachers will recommend ideas for learning together, including both assignments and time required for students to complete that work, for an average of 3 hours per week, for most students at these grade levels.

Grades 4-6

  • Education content will focus on language/literacy and mathematics/numeracy and health & wellness, outcomes of the territorial curriculum, with opportunities to incorporate science and social studies outcomes through cross-curricular learning.
  • As much as possible, students should be involved in shaping the learning activity to explore questions that touch their lives, as and when possible.
  • Teachers will recommend ideas for learning together, including both assignments and time required for students to complete that work, for an average of 5 hours per week, for most students at these grade levels.

Grades 7-9

  • Education content will focus on communication/literacy concepts as well as numeracy, science and social studies curriculum outcomes.
  • As much as possible, students should be involved in shaping the learning activity to explore questions that touch their lives, including opportunities to work virtually with other students, as and when possible.
  • Teachers will recommend ideas for learning together, including both assignments and time required for students to complete that work, for an average of 7 hours per week, for most students at these grade levels.

High School (Grade 10-12)

  • Teachers will assist students to complete the core subject courses (language arts, mathematics, science, social studies) in which they are currently enrolled.
  • It is anticipated that students will need to dedicate an average of 3 hours of work per course per week, and will be expected to work with their teachers, parents and others on these learning outcomes and materials.

Learning on the land

The document agrees that this situation is “an ideal opportunity for many families to take time to be on the land,” adding there are many lessons for the land to offer children.

The NWT’s education department encourages families to bring school materials from teachers with them, so students can “make connections between subject-based learning and land-based concepts.”

The department says students may be able to apply for special credits based on their experience and time on the land.

Remote counselling

Counselling will be available by phone and online for all students, whether or not they were previously receiving counselling.

Counsellors are currently reaching out to students to plan continued appointments by distance, and are creating virtual workshops on mental health for families.

Food programs and assistive technology

Every education body in the NWT receives money to ensure students have access to healthy food at school.

While there were no specific plans in the document to guide how these programs will help students while schools are closed, the document states: “In the coming days and weeks, each school will be providing community and school-specific instructions about what programs will be offered and how to access them.”

The situation is similar for assistive technology used to help students learn.

“Each school will give community and school-specific instruction as to how students’ existing assistive technology will be accessed during this period of social distancing,” the document concludes.

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