Adapting to Covid rules becomes a way of life

We’ve seen how the pandemic is having a lasting impact on every aspect of life, and education is no exception. Now we turn to our correspondents around the world for their experiences. This first report covers Canada, Dubai and England.

Canada

Our colleagues in Quebec are in deep winter with temperatures in the urban areas around -10C and in the rural areas as low as -25C.  It has made some wonder how the virus can survive in this cold. Unfortunately it has survived, as the graph below illustrates.  The extensive area in the West of Quebec that the WQSB serves has very few cases, however, and those it does are mainly concentrated in the urban areas around Gatineau. 

Mike Dubeau, Director General of the Western Quebec School Board, reports that as a result of the increase in cases, the Provincial government has imposed an 8pm curfew for the first time in its history. This is supposed to continue until February 8, although there is now speculation that it could be extended.  The frustration this has caused has been recognised by the Premier, Francois Legault, via a Facebook post on the January 23. 

 

In Mike’s latest newsletter he reports that there have been 41 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Board’s schools since September 6, of which the vast majority have been in schools serving urban communities.  This contrasts markedly to schools in England, which in one case, have reported more than 60 cases in a single year group of 150 students. Mike continues his policy of clear and timely communication and taking care of staff and students’ wellbeing. 

 

He believes that the situation of homeschooling will remain unchanged for the foreseeable future. The numbers attending virtual school are now 400 and the number of parents electing to educate their children at home remains relatively high. Not all work is on hold, with senior staff at the Board using this time to improve their coaching skills. They are doing this through an Olevi Coaching programme delivered by Richard Lockyer, CEO of Olevi and supported by Ruth Ahern, Assistant Director General, Director of Adult Education & Vocational Training. 

As with everyone else, our colleagues in Canada are patiently awaiting the full roll-out of the vaccine.  The provincial government has had to re-adjusted its plans as the vaccine manufacturer Pfizer has delayed production whilst it retrofits its factory in Belgium to meet the demand. Currently nearly 3 per cent of the population in Canada has been vaccinated. In the UEA the figure is nearly eight times higher. 

Dubai

The UAE, of which Dubai is an Emirate, has just recorded its highest number of cases for nine days running.  However, cases are relatively low compared to elsewhere and precautions stringent, making it a bolt hole for many Europeans in these troubled times. Meanwhile, their vaccination programme is second behind Israel, with 21 vaccinations per 100 people.

On the school front, while the Christmas holidays are a fading memory, their impact in terms of increased risk of covid transmission has resulted in the school system in Dubai taking precautionary measures.  The schools regulator has insisted that Schools remain completely or partially closed and staff returning from abroad have been told to self-isolate. Cases amongst staff and students have resulted in constant disruption as groups of staff and students self isolate.  A rolling two-week timetable is common, with teachers having to provide homeschooling and face-to-face work often at the same time. 

The Dubai health authority has continued to rigorously inspect schools with year groups being sent home if transgression of the strict social distance measures and mandatory wearing of face masks has been found.

The continuation of the upturn in cases has resulted in the Ministry of Education announcing that distance learning for schools will continue for an additional two weeks. 

However, the UAE as with their response initially to the spread of the virus, has been rigorous in establishing a vaccination programme.  All staff in schools are being encouraged to vaccinate as soon as possible, an opportunity our colleagues have already taken up.  The sense of relief amongst staff is noticeable, though the pressure from the considerable variable workload continues. 

England

Though cases are high across the United Kingdom, wide variation exists between the countries and the regions within England. As noted before, all have increased rapidly and now reached a peak, which has unfortunately not as yet resulted in a reduction of those in hospital or dying.  

As the speed of transmission of the new variant of the virus has taken most by surprise, so has the increasing acrimony between the Department of Education and a number of the other parties involved. Whether it is about who should be in schools, how long they should be open for, what form the examinations should take in the summer, the weekly COVID testing programme, or how much time is given to respond to the latest regulation, the rows rumble on. From the government standpoint, modifying the status quo as little as possible seems to be the prevailing approach. One thing is clear: schooling is valued far higher than homeschooling. 

The most public manifestation of this has been the ongoing discussion in various media between the Government and the campaign led by Marcus Rashford over free school meals. The publication of pictures in the national press of what is being provided by some companies has met with universal condemnation and was commented upon in the Houses of Parliament by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Sir Keith Stammer, the Leader of the Opposition.  Both parties claim that ensuring that no child should go hungry is paramount but their solutions differ. With schools back in lockdown, the issue has become more acute for these vulnerable students, as has the provision of adequate internet connections at home. 

Only early years schools are open to all.  Other schools are open for vulnerable students and students of key workers.  The categories of these have been broadened so that a considerably larger number of students are now eligible. This in some quarters has taken capacity to its limit. Home schooling of between 3-5 hours a day has been made legally binding, with parents who are concerned that this is not being provided being directed by the Minister of State for Education to first complain to their school and then to Ofsted. 

For many teachers this means a return to Zoom lessons and a barrage of emails from students and parents. As many teachers are also parents, managing the learning of their own children alongside other students has become all embracing. Down-time is highly prized and a walk in the open air a too infrequent luxury  

On the good news front, for my grandson at least, the decision over public examinations this year has been made. Though the detail is yet to be ironed out, students, parents and teachers were pleased to hear that national exams this summer are scrapped to be replaced by teacher’s assessments rather than the contentious algorithm that replaced them last year. He is content that his efforts to stick at his school work during this highly disruptive period will be as fairly rewarded as possible. 

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We are grateful to our long time friend and colleague Phil Perry for his contribution to the report from Quebec. Our next post covers Jersey, Sweden and Wales