For three days last week I sat beside my six-year-old grandson as he endured three days of online classes in grade one. It was not really a pleasant experience for him and some of the other students, especially the boys. It could not have been pleasant for their teachers. Nor was it a picnic for parents, grandparents, and other caregivers who, like me, were hovering just off screen, trying to keep the children involved, and in some cases even to keep them in their chairs.
I will be back at it this week and perhaps for longer. Our daughter and her husband are fortunate to have work, and work which they can do from home. I can barely imagine what it must be like for people who have several children involved in remote learning, who are cramped for space, who are single parents, or essential workers who cannot work from home.
Ford’s flip flop
On January 3rd, Premier Doug Ford announced a shutdown of the Ontario’s schools to in-person learning until January 17th. He did this after insisting throughout December that schools would open on January 4th as planned. Engaging in his usual bombastic hyperbole, Ford said he made a “decisive decision” that had taken him about 30 seconds. If so, that followed a month of dithering and ignoring the advice of his medical experts that he restrict gatherings to combat the extremely transmissible Omicron virus. The premier has a habit of waiting until the last minute to act, then pleading that he has no choice. As an aside, at his news conference Ford seemed to be sporting orange hair. Or was it just bad studio lighting? In either case, he needs some advice.
Parents, teachers scrambling
Parents were left scrambling, once again with virtually no notice. Teachers were left scrambling as well because they had no time to pivot from teaching in person, as they had expected, to preparing for teaching remotely. They did their best, but at times during the week I watched as they struggled with the software programs and content accompanying their lessons.
There were also numerous cases of frozen screens, and near chaos as teachers coached grade ones on how to move from one screen to another to follow lesson materials. Quite rightly, in these cases every student had to be on board before the teacher would move ahead. Some among us struggled to help our children but not always successfully.
Then there were the problems with microphones. Often, they were left unmuted and picked up whatever sounds were occurring in the students’ home settings; at other times some students were on mute when they were being asked questions.
Fidgety and stressed
The school day last week began at 8:00 a.m. and consisted of eight periods ranging between 25 and 40 minutes, albeit with some breaks. It is difficult for a six-year-old to remain on a chair and engaged for that amount of time, given the virtual classroom distractions. My grandson was often fidgety, and I was stressed.
Despite this, the decision to close the schools was likely the right one under the circumstances. The government did waste valuable time in December; but by January 4th , given the aggressive nature of the omicron virus, schools likely had to be closed. I know that some medical doctors, not to mention another group representing pediatricians, and still others representing mental health practitioners all called for the schools to remain open. They said that children are falling behind in their education and that their mental health is suffering. I accept many of these arguments, but I also agree with an infectious disease specialist who said in an interview that getting COVID would not do much for anyone’s mental health either. It is the government’s lack of planning and lack of transparency that is galling because it has caused a wild scramble and much hardship for students, parents, and teachers.
The discussion that occurred in our house went something like this. If our two children were sent to school and to daycare, they would likely to contract COVID, given how aggressively the Omicron virus spreads. They would have to isolate with their parents in a small apartment, assuming that they did not have to be hospitalized. Their family would have to cut off all contact with us as grandparents who back them up to avoid giving us the virus. The early decision was to keep the children home, no matter what the government decreed about schools.
Ford’s report card
We may all get another chance, a breather if Omicron soon runs its course. Let us hope that the Ontario and other governments use that time to improve school safety for both students and staff. Groups representing teachers, unions, and parents have made a list of recommendations which they say must accompany the safe reopening of schools. The task is urgent. There will be a provincial election in Ontario on June 2, 2022. Mr. Ford’s report card is coming due.