Irene Joseph’s children do school work at their grandparents table in Kyuquot. (Irene Joseph photo)
Frustrations are building for families struggling to keep up with home schooling and post-secondary course requirements made exponentially more difficult due to government-mandated social isolation requirements.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic provincial governments have declared states of emergency, leading to the closure of all educational institutions, from kindergarten up to university.
Initially, many school children loved the idea of an extended spring break, which, for them, marked the beginning of social isolation in British Columbia. But more than six weeks of social isolation is taking its toll on everyone.
Parents have had to become teachers, navigating their way through lessons and technology that will allow their children to keep up with their schoolwork from home. Children, in many cases, are doing online schoolwork using electronic gadgets and the internet. Some receive hardcopy packages of materials that allow the student to do their work manually.
Some parents, like Stacey Miller, are also students, taking post-secondary courses and having their own course loads and deadlines to meet. Stacey and her husband David, members of the Ehattesaht First Nation, live in Nanaimo with their son, who is completing the tenth grade at Wellington Secondary School.
They say they are frustrated with the education system.
“My wife Stacey is struggling as a student with bad communication with VIU (Vancouver Island University) and not to mention online classes with no laptop; the list goes on,” David wrote to Ha-Shilth-Sa. “It’s trying times especially for our son – he is in Grade 10 attending Wellington Secondary and they expect him to take classes via his iPhone with no laptop and other resources.”
He went on to describe his wife’s frustration.
“She needs help. She’s worried she is going to fail her classes without the support of NTC,” said Miller.
Stacey Miller, according to David, has received full funding from the NTC Post-Secondary Program. She plans to begin work on the Bachelor of Business Administration in the fall.
But with the additional pressures of becoming an instant teacher for her teenager and everyone fighting to stay on top of their work with inadequate tools, there is a real fear that they will not make it.
“She is pleading for help to get answers from anyone,” said David, adding that they are struggling with all of the new duties they must manage.
“A lot of students are in the dark without any follow through with the pandemic – it’s very sad,” said Miller.
Ian Caplette, the NTC’s director of Education, Training and Social Development, says there is support for school students living within the boundaries of School Districts 70 and 84 because the NTC has negotiated Local Education Agreements with those districts. The two school districts cover Nuu-chah-nulth territories in places like Zeballos in the north, Alberni as well as Tofino, Ucluelet, and Bamfield on the coast.
The agreements allow Nuu-chah-nulth educations workers access school district classrooms and students in Nuu-chah-nulth territories. NEW’s deliver educational support to Indigenous students as well as cultural content.
Caplette says that schools in SD 70 and 84 are delivering lessons with the use of technology and internet connectivity.
“All students (in SD70 and 84) are provided with no or low-tech options like paper and pencil, however this has not been consistent across the territories,” said Caplette.
He acknowledged that the schools have received additional funding from the federal government to help them through the additional demands on the budget during the pandemic, but it is up to school district superintendents to set priorities and allocate funding.
Since the crisis started in March, Caplette confirms that some school districts are loaning computers out to students without access to adequate hardware. In addition, some districts have set up mobile hotspots where none exist.
“We receive funding from federal government to purchase education services from the province. There are some stipulations on how the funding is to be used,” said Caplette. “We’ve been working with [school district] superintendents to determine what the needs are.”
He noted that the Maa-nulth nations, who have treaties, administer their own education agreements with schools. Band-run schools like the ones in Ahousaht are considered independent and are not part of SD70.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted education services for everyone and it has been challenging to attempt to bring education services to the level they were at prior to the disruption. Caplette says educators have been directed to deliver alternative learning options to all learners within their district. Teachers were surveyed and needs assessments performed for things such as laptops, internet connectivity, and people in homes that can assist the learners.
According to Caplette, public school teachers were tasked with providing options for learning.
“People without technology are to be provided with no-tech options and some SD’s loan laptops out to families so that work can be completed,” he continued.
The provincial government has worked to find ways to help kids who do not have adequate internet access.
“School districts have worked with internet service providers to ensure families have low-cost internet or unlimited cellphone data plans,” reads a provincial statement.
Local internet hotspots have also been created to ensure free Wi-Fi is available to multiple families in a neighbourhood, the statement continued.
Caplette suggests that parents living outside SD70 and 84 that are struggling to keep up because they don’t have a laptop raise their concerns, first with the child’s teacher.
“They can also speak to the school administrator to inform them that device is inadequate for task and request an alternative,” he advised.
But this raises another issue. Caplette noted it may be difficult to even buy a laptop at this time.
“Since this pandemic began the worldwide demand for computers has risen,” he noted.
Another alternative is to apply for funding for a laptop through Jordan's Principle, a federal program that makes sure all First Nations children living in Canada can access the products, services and supports they need. Funding can help with a wide range of health, social and educational needs, including school supplies. For more information and application forms for Jordan’s Principle visit https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/1568396042341/1568396159824
Caplette is the father of school-age children and knows first-hand the struggles and the process to get help for your children’s schoolwork.
“First, go to the teacher, then to the principal, then to the superintendent and finally the board; that is the process,” said Caplette, adding that under B.C. legislation, if the service is not there then the parents have the right to advocate for their children.
For now, the NEW staff are connecting with families and with schools.
“During the survey times they liaised between school and students and continue to deliver assignments to the students,” said Caplette.
Issues for post-secondary students are more complex as a result of the pandemic. Caplette said the federal government has provided some funding, which is administered through the financial aid office of each post-secondary institution.
In April Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government would deliver comprehensive support of nearly $9 billion for post-secondary students and recent graduates.
“This plan will help provide the financial support they need this summer, help them continue their studies in the fall, and help many get the experience they need to start their careers,” said Trudeau.
The Canada Emergency Student Benefit, available between May and August 2020, is intended to provide for students and new graduates who are not eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. This benefit would provide $1,250 per month for eligible students or $1,750 per month for leaners with dependents or disabilities.
“This funding can be used for any manner of things…rent, food, laptop; for those deemed eligible for this support,” said Caplette.
In addition, the B.C. Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation has made funding available for Aboriginal post-secondary students to help them through this time.
“Any information we get is sent out to all students that we fund,” Caplette noted.
Most of the relief funding goes to public educational institutions. Private institutions like Discovery Community College, for example, did not receive government support, according to Caplette.
The NTC’s education department has not received additional funding to assist post-secondary students during the COVID crisis. But Caplette’s staff can offer support.
“We can help students navigate the systems, to liaise between them and the institution to help them get what they need,” he said.
The NTC education department has a post-secondary counsellor, Shaylene Shepherd. With the assistance of the NTC accounting department, monthly payments to post-secondary students have been processed without interruption, even though NTC offices has been closed since mid-March.
“We can provide some stability to students, giving them one less thing to worry about during this time,” Caplette added.
The tribal council’s education department has the contact information of all funded post-secondary students. Any public statements on increased funding will result in emails being sent out to each student. In addition, the NTC’s post-secondary education department has a Facebook page that is continually updated.
To support families looking for additional resources to help their children learn remotely, the Ministry of Education has created the Keep Learning website, which is updated almost daily with new activities for kids of any age. The website receives hundreds of thousands of visitors every week and can be found at www.openschool.bc.ca/KeepLearning