Schools across Australia are facing the prospect of having to close their doors to students after the Prime Minister announced a ban on gatherings of more than 500 people in a bid to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
- The Federal Government has been ramping up its coronavirus response
- The AMA wants educational facilities closed as soon as possible
- Perth’s Christ Church Grammar has already taken steps to prepare
Although the advice does not yet extend to schools, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has urged governments to consider closing educational facilities soon to limit the spread of the virus.
In Western Australia, Christ Church Grammar School in Perth’s western suburbs has spent the past three months preparing for a possible prolonged closure.
On Friday morning the school undertook a trial of remote teaching involving 200 of its Year 10 students.
The boys were given the option to stay at home for the first two periods and use a computer program to connect with their teacher online.
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Student Seb Chandraratna was one of those who stayed at home and tested the new technology.
“I reckon it’s a good idea, because education is important … especially if you want to get a good job,” he said.
Student Seb Chandraratna took part in the trial of the technology. (ABC News: Benjamin Gubana)
“I never thought this would actually happen.
“Yes technology is improving every day, but I never thought it would get this far, at least this quickly.”
Using the technology, teachers can see all students in their class via their webcams, with the boys able to raise their hands virtually to gain the teacher’s attention.
Director of studies Mahendra Vaswani said the plan was all about risk mitigation, ensuring students could still access education in the event of a prolonged shutdown.
Mahendra Vaswani says the aim is to ensure teaching and learning continuity. (ABC News: Benjamin Gubana)
“We want to be assured and we want to reassure our community that we’ve got teaching and learning continuity no matter what might happen,” he said.
“So as a result of today’s trial we certainly will be looking at how we might scale this.”
School started the ‘what if’ conversation early
The school executive met in early January, when the coronavirus pandemic was in its infancy, to begin contingency planning.
“It hadn’t quite hit our shores, but we started the conversation about ‘what if’, what might happen,” Mr Vaswani said.
Mathematics teacher Hamish McLean led the first online class with students on Friday morning.
“It actually went really well,” he said.
Hamish McLean was pleased with the first online teaching session. (ABC News: Benjamin Gubana)
“There were a few teething problems, but that’s what happens with a trial — that’s why we’ve done it.
Mr McLean said the interpersonal relationship was not hugely affected by the loss of face-to-face contact.
“A tiny bit was lost, but the good thing about the software is we can still see students’ faces and they can still react via chat,” he said.
AMA predicts students won’t return after term break
The AMA’s WA president, Andrew Miller, predicted widespread school closures would happen in the near future.
“The schools, we need a bit of preparation time but it will be coming,” he said.
“Sometime in the next few weeks we would expect the Government would be looking closely at that.
“I suspect what will happen is that schools won’t go back after the holidays.
The school is now looking at running the online program on a bigger scale. (ABC News: Benjamin Gubana)
“I think it is also time to look at tighter travel restrictions.”
Education Minister Sue Ellery said her department was developing materials to help public school students continue learning in the event of school closures.
“Obviously this planning has to take into account the many different locations and types of schools we have around Western Australia,” she said.
“There are a range of options that are being considered, including the School of Isolation and Distance which already delivers online education, as well as online learning platforms which schools already use, such as Connect.
“Public school principals were made aware today that plans are well underway.
“Principals will communicate directly with parents to let them know of any arrangements if and when the need arises.
“I understand non-government schools are making their own arrangements to suit their individual schools.”
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