Education minister outlines changes to B.C. schooling during pandemic: Q+A
VANCOUVER -- Schools across B.C. are gearing up to launch distance learning as in-class teaching has been suspended indefinitely during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
CTV Morning Live sat down with Rob Fleming, B.C.'s education minister, to discuss how schools in the province are adapting.
Below is part of an eight-minute interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.
Jason Pires: When the education ministry first announced that kids would not be returning to school after spring break, you marked a reassessment at the end of April. So the question now is will kids be back before the end of the school year?
Minister Rob Fleming: Well that's something I don't think anybody can answer at this point in time. I think what we've heard from the provincial health officer is that there's some hope and optimism in British Columbia but we really have a long way to go in terms of combatting COVID-19 and the pandemic conditions here in British Columbia. I don't think anyone can say, which is why we made the announcement the suspension of in-class instruction is indefinite.
Keri Adams: We really want to know when we can expect to have a concrete online plan for learning at home.
Fleming: Well there's one that's been available since last week for parents primarily as the intended audience. It's called Keep Learning B.C. It's had hundreds of thousands of unique visits since last week. Parents are liking it; it's broken down into (age groups).
Of course the B.C. curriculum is available online and we have 57 online delivery agencies, most of them own by school districts in British Columbia as well.
It'll look a little bit differently just as classrooms do. Teachers have unique autonomy and expertise in normal times and they will in this case as well.
The province just acquired Zoom social media app certificates for use across the education system so we'll expect in some ways you'll have some fairly interactive technology. Of course it's not going to make up for the in-class experience but it will keep kids much better connected.
Pires: There are massive challenges ahead because of course not all students have the resources they need for online learning. The playing field doesn't seem level. So is that frustrating for you as a minister?
Fleming: We've asked all 60 school districts to try and find out if there are any students that lack a reliable device to deliver education on in their home. We know that 93 per cent of British Columbian homes have fast or very fast internet service so that's good, but that does leave some gaps. We're hearing reports from different school districts that where they do have stores of (supplies) that they should look to loan them out and they are beginning to do that so that's one of things districts are doing right now.
This is a huge undertaking. It's a planning week, it's a week to get services up and running. I think most kids are going to really start to get down to the learning by the end of the week or into next week in terms of having lesson plans and activities delivered in this new way.
Parents this week should be expecting to hear from teachers. Really this week is about connecting and beginning the process of learning.
Adams: What's the mood like amongst teachers? What is your message to Metro Vancouver teachers trying to navigate through this?
Fleming: My first message is thanks. These are extraordinary times for everybody that works in the school system. These are times where the school system has been called upon as a pillar in supporting essential workers on the front lines of the health-care system to keep our hospitals at full capacity to save lives.
One of the things we've asked the school system to do, and I would repeat this to any parents out there who are essential frontline health-care workers or first responders, contact your principal and make arrangements. The school system owes it to your family for the sacrifice you're making to be able to look after your kids so you can report to work and keep serving British Columbians.
Pires: You have one more announcement to make today?
Fleming: I alluded to it earlier, but we have a province-wide certificate now for the Zoom technology application to be used. It's quite good, it's easy to use … but it's also a great application for school. There's going to be lots of different ways that kids connect. There are lots of apps available out there that help deliver an appropriate, physically distant learning system.
We are making it up. We never thought that we'd been in a pandemic and have to do this but teachers are rising to the occasion, support staff as well and principals and vice principals and it's great to see people off and running and showing the enthusiasm and understanding the importance to mental wellness. Let's stay connected together and we'll get through it together.