Class time becomes screen time as schools become homeworkMarch 23, 2020
In the past week Ahelee Rahman has created a poster interpreting a chemistry class experiment she wasn't there to see. She has also taken a piano lesson in her lounge room while her music teacher watched on remotely and even had “virtual lunch” with a friend.
This is life as a high school student in the time of COVID-19.
Melbourne Girls’ Grammar student Ahelee Rahman is adjusting to remote learning.Credit:Joe Armao
The Victorian school term was cut short for most schools this week, with students sent home and teachers given extra time to prepare for the possible switch to remote learning when classes resume in mid-April.
Many independent schools had already switched to remote learning last week in response to the virus. Melbourne Girls’ Grammar, where Ahelee is in year 10, made the transition last week.
“Yes, there is lots of screen time,” Ahelee says of the experience of learning from home.
“Teachers are encouraging us to avoid screens on the weekend, to go for a walk around the block, but of course you have to be online to learn so it’s about trying to have a bit of balance.”
Melbourne Girls’ Grammar is a multi-storey school in inner-city South Yarra, and Ahelee is also missing the regular four-storey climb to her locker.
Music lessons are still possible with video conferencing technology. Credit:Joe Armao
“It’s a running joke that we get so much cardio done during the day, which isn’t happening with online learning, so I will usually have a five to 10 minute break and walk up and down the stairs, go into the backyard for a walk and try to recalibrate that way,” she says.
The school is also offering fitness classes – on a live stream – as a form of physical activity for students.
Principal Toni Meath says the school is also learning as it goes when it comes to remote learning, but was well placed for the shift.
Its curriculum is already available online for senior students, who are accustomed to accessing it.
“We have been troubleshooting the online system for the last two weeks, pushing it to the max, and looking for all sorts of eventualities,” Dr Meath said.
As with many other independent schools, Melbourne Girls’ Grammar will end term one on Friday, unlike government schools which all closed on Monday.
Students are expected to sign in remotely at first bell every morning, just like on an ordinary school day, and complete classes to a routine schedule.
“If they’ve got mathematics period one, that’s when their maths teacher is delivering that,” Dr Meath said.
Teachers at state schools will also use the rest of this week to prepare their remote learning plans.
Steven Kolber is literacy improvement teacher at Brunswick Secondary College, and says the school is “pretty much set and ready to go already” should the virus force the school to deploy remote learning.
Mr Kolber says there is little risk of students “skiving off to the shops” if they are not physically at school.
“We would expect kids to be actively engaged in their education for the same length of time as normal (and) we still would expect them to be doing things that they would normally be doing, just via a computer,” he said.
The school has also prepared learning plans for the minority of students who do not have access to the internet at home.
Mr Kolber concedes there will be an inevitable element of compromise for all students.
“The actual content to be delivered will be of the same quality but the thing that will mostly be lacking is all the important stuff, relationships with kids and the ability to pick a kid up on their behaviour or that something has changed.”
Dr Meath admits the same.
“Teaching is a human endeavour, we are social animals so you could never replace that face to face student relationship … but we have to do the very best that we can.”
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