New Brunswick students will see big changes this fall, including access to technology to use at home

Courier file photo St. Stephen Middle School, along with all other schools in New Brunswick, won’t see kids back until September, and the landscape will look different when they do return said Education and Early Childhood Development Minister, Dominc Cardy.

St. Stephen – While pre-schoolers are heading back to class today, Tuesday, May 19, students from Kindergarten through Grade 12 will remain at home until September. Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Dominic Cardy said having pre-school children back in class means that approximately one third of the Province’s student population will be “back in some form of school and education-based activity”.

This will give teachers and school staff time to ensure the proper safety procedures and protocols are in place before the rest of the student population heads back to class in September.

“So, when we are back into school in September for K-12, hopefully we will have worked out the bugs in how we handle the physical structure,” said Cardy. “In schools and early childhood centers, how do we handle social distancing? How do we handle making sure things are kept clean. That’s often difficult with little kids especially.”

When the rest of the students do head back to class in September, they will find some pretty big changes in how the curriculum will be delivered to them. Currently, many students are doing some school work online, and Cardy said the New Brunswick government is now working towards having more online educational tools available to them by providing the technology needed so they have access to these tools from home.

“You guys have made a good living off Canadians and also New Brunswickers for a long time. It’s time to step up and make sure every New Brunswicker be connected,” Cardy said to provincial leaders.

Cardy said the province is going to ensure that every student has a connection to the internet, and a computer to use. The plan is to have a modified version of a school day in the classroom available to them online, so they are not going to miss out on anything should there be any more disruptions in their schedules.

“In the fall, the other thing we’re really working to is making sure every student in New Brunswick has a connection to the Internet, and a computer to do it,” said Cardy.

“We need to be ready to form a modified version of a school day in the classrooms, kids with the teachers as usual with the safety features in place, and we’re working on those now. But, in addition, we’ve got to be ready to be able to get education online for who knows how long. It’s the virus that’s going to decide that schedule. We just have to be ready to accommodate.”

Some parents may be worried their children won’t have access to the technology they need in order to learn at home. Cardy said this is not going to be an issue. The Department of Education has purchased more than 1,000 iPads for students that have been identified by the schools as not having access to the necessary technology.

Also, more than 500 laptop computers have been purchased. For students who have computers but no internet access, they will be provided with mobile internet hubs that will connect them to the Internet.

“I expect we’ll still have a small number of kids who can’t get access because there are those dead zones across the province, those are obviously more so in rural areas. We’re going to do our best to find a solution for those kids as well.”

A mobile internet hub is a remote wifi hotspot. Cardy said they are using a device that will give students access to the Internet through a cellular signal. He hopes that people who live in areas where there are internet signals but no cellular signals will also be able to get hooked up.

“If you’ve got cell connection but no internet, we can get you the internet service out there. That’s basically how that works.”

Many parents have been struggling to help their children with their studies since the closure of New Brunswick schools due to COVID-19, so the new programs being created will bring them much relief. Cardy said it is understandable that some students may be falling a bit behind right now, because there were only a couple of weeks to create material for them to be able to study at home.

“So the last few weeks has been about making do with what we can to try and keep things moving along and make sure that the students don’t fall too far behind,” said Cardy.

“We’re going to be working with our teachers between now and September to make sure they get professional development in online education. The quantity and quality of online material that the kids and families will see in September will be vastly different, and at a higher quality level.”

Having online study programs and the tools needed to access these programs is a huge benefit for New Brunswick students. In addition to being able to have online learning in schools, if there are any more disruptions in their schedules, they won’t be left behind. Because no one is certain about how COVID-19 is going to play out, it is important that these new online training tools be available to every student.

“In September, we’ve got to be ready to just confront the fact that the virus is going to be with us for possibly two years, possibly more. We need to be ready to carry on kids’ education regardless of what the virus tries to do to us.”

Will students pass this year?

Because things were so rushed this year, many parents have wondered if their children are going to be held back in their current grade levels. Cardy said this will not be the case for most students. He said whether or not they will grade will depend on their marks as of January.

If they were ready to get passed along at that time, then they will be moved up into the next grade. For the students who were struggling, the teachers have been using online components to help ensure that they are able to mov ahead comfortably. High school students have been accessing many online courses that are offered for credit in order to ensure that they pass.

“It wasn’t fair for us to demand that anything that was done at home the last few weeks count, because some students just didn’t have access to the material,” said Cardy.

“We’re trying to make sure we deal with some of those barriers before we get into real online learning in September if we have to. We’ll keep to that going forward. It’s a great thing for the province regardless of the future of the pandemic.

“Best case scenario is every student is connected, worst case, we’re ready with teachers ready to teach online and the students are ready to learn online, and we have the machinery to make that work.”

sarigreen@stcroixcourier.ca