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opinion

Hamish Telford is an associate professor of political science at the University of the Fraser Valley. Rob Peregoodoff is the director of learning services at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.

Two months ago, teachers in British Columbia had to figure out in a hurry how to teach online – something most of them had no experience with. To say the results have been mixed is an understatement.

Unlike universities, most B.C. schools do not have a dedicated online teaching platform – or learning management system, as those in the know call it. Nor have many of them adopted basic digital infrastructure for functions like attendance or report cards.

Consequently, teachers have been communicating with students through different platforms and with varying frequency, with little consistency and assignments made up on the fly that may or may not resonate with students.

Many teachers have thus not surprisingly reported a decline in engagement over the past two months while students have been “learning” from home.

To complicate matters further, the B.C. government is now resuming face-to-face instruction on a limited basis.

So teachers are once again scrambling to figure out how they’ll accommodate students safely in class, as well as how to teach in this new hybrid format of in-class teaching (likely with high absentee rates) and continued online “learning.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the spring’s online learning experiment and the current return to class have both been a colossal waste of time and effort. In our opinion, rather than trying to salvage the current school year, the government, school boards and teachers should have been putting all their efforts this spring into preparing for September.

To start, it would have been helpful for the government – or at least school boards – to acquire a learning management system that would be used by all teachers.

Second, teachers need lots of time to reconceptualize how to teach online. While much of the same content can be taught online, it cannot be taught in the same way. And it takes time – a lot of time – to figure out how to deliver the content effectively in this new medium.

But with teachers scrambling to salvage the current term, they haven’t had the time to figure out how to teach this way in the longer term – and we will be in this situation for a long time.

While there may be more face-to-face instruction in the fall, it is unlikely that all students will be in class at the same time as we will need to maintain physical distancing rules for the foreseeable future.

Teaching in the fall will thus almost certainly be a hybrid of face-to-face instruction and online learning – and it might be online entirely if we get hit by a second wave of COVID-19. Hence the pressing need to prepare for this new teaching reality.

The government has described the partial return to school in June as a trial run for September. That might make sense from a public health point of view – can schools accommodate students with the necessary physical distancing and required hygiene standards?

But it does not make any sense from a pedagogical perspective. Students are going to be in class on such a limited basis in June that precious little learning will take place. And it actively prevents teachers from getting ready for the new teaching reality in September.

Without giving teachers the time now to prepare for September, students are likely to lose another month of their education when school resumes after Labour Day as teachers figure out what to do – because, remember, teachers don’t get paid over the summer.

Now that we have squandered the spring trying to salvage the current school year for virtually no pedagogical benefit, we simply cannot afford to lose more time in September.

We thus recommend that the government bring teachers back to work after B.C. Day on Aug. 3 and pay them throughout the month of August – when they have no students – to prepare for September.

We also ask that the recommendations tabled by the Online Learning Working Group (part of the K – 12 Funding review) be used to develop provincial resources to support online and blended learning environments for all teachers in the province. That way, teachers will be able to hit the ground running after Labour Day.

This, of course, will cost the government a significant amount of money, but it has already ponied up additional wages for front line health care workers, social services workers and corrections staff. For the well-being of our kids and their education, the government needs to come up with some additional money for teachers, too.

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