Students at Aurora College will almost certainly be learning remotely this fall, the education minister told MLAs on Tuesday.
Colleges and adult education centres cannot open until phase three of the NWT’s pandemic recovery plan, which kicks in once an expected second wave of Covid-19 has passed through southern Canada.
While there is no clear timeline for phase three to begin, the NWT government has said it could be later in the fall.
“What the college has been planning for is distance learning come September,” RJ Simpson, the minister, said in response to questions from Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler.
“However, we don’t know exactly where we’re going to be,” Simpson continued. “We would like to be able to provide some in-person instruction for people who absolutely need it. The plan right now is distance learning for the most part.”
Efforts are also under way to find extra money to help students struggling financially.
Simpson said that while the Northwest Territories had opted out of the federal student loan program decades ago – meaning students won’t directly receive federal increases – the NWT government is expecting to receive financial support from Ottawa.
However, the territory is not expecting to receive extra money for the upcoming school year until January 2022, Simpson said.
“I’m looking at ways we can bridge that gap and figure out how to support students,” he told MLAs.
Semmler, noting some students rely on student housing for their primary residence, asked if students will continue to have access to that housing even if Aurora College classrooms themselves remain closed.
“These are a lot of hard conversations we’re having,” said Simpson, who could not say for certain what would happen to those students.
“There are some people from communities where perhaps the internet doesn’t allow them to take distance learning. We are looking at how to support those students and opening up residences is one of those, but that’s an ongoing conversation.
“There are a lot of considerations, but these are exceptional circumstances and we need to do everything we can.”
Lesa Semmler, the Inuvik Twin lakes MLA, at the legislature on May 26, 2020.
In mid-April, student housing in Inuvik was transformed into a new, temporary location for the town’s warming centre. The centre is a shelter for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Semmler asked how the potential conflict would be resolved if students require access to housing in the building while the warming centre is still based there.
“This is not just a student housing issue. This is a homelessness issue, this is a vulnerable persons issue,” Simpson agreed.
“I don’t have an answer right now. We are working to find solutions to all of those issues.”