Arviat students still awaiting computers to help with remote learning

·4 min read

As students in Nunavut’s COVID-19 hot spot of Arviat continue to learn from home, the territory’s education minister says his department hasn’t yet been able to deliver computers to students to help with remote learning.

“We’re still dealing with the logistics of deploying to the affected communities,” said Education Minister David Joanasie on Monday about delivery of computers to students.

Schools in communities other than Arviat are reopened to varying degrees today, following the end of a two-week lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Nunavut has 800 electronic devices — computers and tablets — for students to do homework on, Joanasie said.

“I don’t have a breakdown of how many [students] will be able to have access [to computers and internet] as of Wednesday,” Joanasie said.

The department “dropped the ball” on preparing teachers, parents and students to continue learning while schools on are shut down, said James Arreak, chairman of the Nunavut Coalition of District Education Authorities.

The department ordered teachers to prepare learning packages for students in September in case schools had to close. But Arreak said there have been problems with teachers communicating to parents how to give lessons to their children at home.

Right now teachers are trying to communicate through email, and not all parents have computers or access to the internet. Arreak also said instructions shouldn’t just be given in English, but in Inuktut.

“It’s one thing to have learning resources prepared, but it should be done with a bit more practicality,” Arreak said.

He asks why the department couldn’t use communication methods that people are familiar with and have access to, like local radio.

The department is forcing teachers, parents and students to adapt to it, instead of the department adapting to local circumstances, Arreak said.

The coalition’s role is to be partners with the department to help develop and deliver education. “At this point, the government is doing it all [on] their own,” he said.

“It’s evident the department lost focus,” Arreak said. “Maybe they’re tired.”

Most of Nunavut ends its COVID-19 lockdown on Wednesday, with the exception of Arviat, where the highest number of people are infected, and there are signs of community transmission. The community has 854 students. Public health restrictions there will be reassessed on Dec. 16.

There are also people sick with COVID-19 in Rankin Inlet and Whale Cove, but the virus is thought to be contained there, so schools have reopened. Elementary students are going to class three days a week, and high school students two days a week, as per Nunavut’s school reopening plan.

“Remote learning doesn’t necessarily mean computer, computer, computer,” Joanasie said, in response to questions about why his department wasn’t more prepared for a community being locked down for an extended period of time.

Teachers have been creative in getting learning packages to students during the lockdown, he said.

For example, in Pangnirtung learning packages were dropped off and picked up at the post office, Joanasie said. In Whale Cove, the RCMP have been dropping off homework at students’ homes.

But Arreak said what really matters is that teachers are coping, able to communicate to parents and students, and that their instructions are understood, so students can learn.

He also said it’s key for teachers to be able to enter schools so they can prepare learning packages and use the internet to communicate with parents.

On Wednesday, Nunavut chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson said he was fine with teachers in Arviat using their classrooms to prepare materials. But he didn’t know if the Department of Education or the local DEA was allowing it.

The federal government has committed funding to Nunavut, some of which is to buy computers and to expand internet capacity. There are 1,500 more computers on the way to Nunavut, and the department plans to buy 2,192 more.

The department also bought a licence for an online learning platform called Edsby, which isn’t yet available.

In Rankin Inlet and Whale Cove, where there are people with COVID-19 but no signs of community transmission, all students are doing a combination of remote and classroom learning. In the rest of the territory elementary students are back to class full time, and middle and high school students will go two to three days a week with staggered schedules.

Nunatsiaq News asked to speak to a teacher or principal from Arviat, but the Education Department has yet to respond to the request. It also reached out to the Arviat DEA and has yet to hear back.

Meagan Deuling, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News