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Students report e-learning is harder but 'is working'

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After two weeks of e-learning, how are kids finding this substitute for classroom learning?

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If the Walpole family’s experience with online learning in the public school system is representative, with kids eager to learn and supportive parents who are also working amid the COVID-19 lockdown, the new system gets a passing grade but there’s room for improvement.

Schools across the province were closed after the March 12 provincial order and e-learning began April 6. They’ll stay closed until a date past May 4 yet to be determined.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has said school work will be graded – with flexibility – and final report cards will be issued. He has also promised students who are on track to graduate will still be able to do so – and move on to post-secondary education.

Jocelyn, a 15-year-old Grade 10 student at Owen Sound District Secondary School, and Belle, 12, in Grade 7 at East Ridge Community School, both said they’re finding online learning is working and their teachers are supportive.

But it’s harder in some ways, while also less demanding in others.

Motivation is a problem for them and their friends because they’re not in a classroom with a teacher to keep them on task, the Bluewater District School Board students said.

And teachers’ emailed responses to questions for help are usually timely, but aren’t always so. Jocelyn worked on math Wednesday night but her question wasn’t answered until morning. In class, the answer would have been immediate.

And sometimes it’s hard to articulate a question in an email that would be more easily understood and answered if they were in class, said their mother, Kerri Walpole, who spoke during her lunch break while working from home.

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Her husband, Jamie Walpole, who’s co-chair of East Ridge’s school community council, noted while it’s easier to solve problems with the teacher in front of students, there are good online videos and other content that helps.

So far, deadlines aren’t really deadlines. Jocelyn has daily assignments, while her younger sister Belle has a packet of work assigned weekly.

But the schools are trying to limit stress by not focussing on deadlines and trying to keep the experience positive, their dad added. “If this goes on until the end of the year, they might have to tighten up and do a little bit more,” Walpole said.

“It’s a lot harder to learn at home,” said Jocelyn, who acknowledged she’s a go-getter. “There’s no one to keep you in track to do your work.”

Teachers email her assignments and there’s an electronic booklet supplied with more details. She hopes marks she’s given will count on her report card, she said. She’s taking Grade 10 math, photography, history and Grade 11 biology.

“I still get up very early in the morning and try to do my work. But there’s not the motivation to actually sit down and do it,” she said. “And I think that as time goes on it will get better and we will be able to focus and sit down and actually do it.”

Deadlines are flexible, partly because they’re using technology and it’s all unfamiliar, she said. Consequently, “a lot of people aren’t taking it as seriously as others.”

Alison Malito, Jocelyn’s biology teacher, said by email the hardest part is not having face-to-face contact to more easily assess if students are learning or need help.

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Some are difficult to track down, leaving her guessing — is the work too hard? Do they have a computer or WiFi? Are they having to look after little siblings? Has their part-time grocery job become full-time?

“This is emergency remote teaching/learning – it’s brand new and it’s not something we have trained for.” She’s trying to promote not panicking “in every email and phone call I make.”

Belle, collects her weekly assignments on an e-learning website, under a link to her class. So far, deadlines are very flexible.

She likes sleeping in until 9 a.m. but the learning is harder and she gets distracted using the computer, she said. Still, the teacher keeps her on task, she said. Her teachers are “really good” at responding to questions within 10 to 15 minutes.

She’s only in Grade 7 but she’s concerned about the impact of e-learning.

“I’m concerned that I’ll be behind next year,” she said. “I don’t want to be behind and I feel that I will be behind if this e-learning continues.”

“My parents have been trying to help me and they have been,” she said. “But they do understand that I probably will be behind and that I will have to catch up next year.”

Belle said “definitely it’s a big possibility” school might not resume this year, if COVID-19 remains a lingering threat.

“In the story, I want people to know that the schooling is working” but it wouldn’t work as a long-term solution, she said. She also said more needs to be added to online learning expectations “because I like more challenging schooling.”

Her father said it’s early days and that brings stress, for Jocelyn as well, who is uncertain if summer school will be offered, something she wants to attend to put her in a better position to apply for post-secondary education.

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