Mildura Senior College principal Belinda Hudak.

By JOHN DOOLEY

SUNRAYSIA parents of school-aged children must be getting a bit confused and frustrated wondering when the schools in the district will re-open and just what school may end up looking like, given the unique situation where we will have different rules for each side of the Murray River.

Mind you that’s nothing new, but in the case of schools being open to teach their kids, it is!

With the Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, indicating that it is safe for children to go back to school, and the Prime Minister agreeing with him saying that “The risk for educators was ‘in the staff room’ not the classroom”, each State in Australia is running it’s own race in this debate.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews however remains intransigent on the subject.

“Victoria’s parents should assume that the current remote learning regime will remain in place for the rest of Term 2,” he said.

“Authorities can’t just flick a switch for an overnight re-opening of public schools.”

The Premier indicated any gradual easing of the learn-from-home regime wouldn’t be put in place until the State’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, believed it was safe.

“If we get evidence to say those policy settings should change, then we will give people as much notice as we possibly can,” Premier Andrews said.

Relations between Victoria and the Federal Government in regard to keeping schools closed have become tense, since Scott Morrison said social distancing requirements did not apply to classrooms as other States prepared to have students return to school.

Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien has said that research reported in the media indicated that some students’ education is being affected in a detrimental way.

“We can’t afford for students to regard 2020 as a gap year in their schooling,” he said demanding that the Premier lift the ban.

Meanwhile, NSW Premier Galdys Berejiklian has indicated schools will reopen for one day a week for all students from May, 11.

“The timeline will be revised at the end of week three, and if all goes well, students will be back on campus full-time before the end of this term,” she said.

The NSW Government says while no student will be turned away, parents should keep their children at home for now. Students will then return to the classroom using a staggered approach in two weeks time.

In a move that will facilitate Independent and Catholic Education schools to re-open, the Federal Government is offering billions in funding to private schools, providing they have their students returned to the classroom by June 1.

Education Minister Dan Tehan says the medical expert panel has determined that it’s safe to be in the classroom teaching with the right protocols in place.

“The reason we are providing this funding to the Catholic and independent school sector is because they have approached the Federal Government indicating that some schools were experiencing cash flow issues and they are asking for us to bring forward the July payment we would normally make to them,” Minister Tehan said.

“What we have decided to do is bring forward those payments in two installments. They will get the first, if they commit to have a plan in place to get students back and teachers back teaching all year levels by the end of May, if they achieve 50 percent, they will get the second installments.”

Member for Mildura Ali Cupper said that she understands that it’s a difficult time for many parents who are trying to juggle any number of commitments, including remote learning.

“It’s not easy. Ultimately regarding the decision on when schools should reopen, I will always defer to the medical experts,” she said.

“I really don’t think it should be a decision for politicians. I’m not an epidemiologist and I don’t think it’s right for politicians to be making the judgments on reopening schools.

“I do worry about having large amount of people movement if schools are reopened – like at drop-offs and pick-ups.

“And, I think we also really need to take into account the potential impact on teachers.”
Remote learning is new buzz word

As our schools adapt their teaching regime to the remote learning world, Mildura Senior College (MSC) is finding the new arrangements are working well – albeit, some major adjustments have been required.

MSC principal Belinda Hudak said that their students are likely looking at remote learning continuing until the end of Term 2.

“We are however prepared for whatever changes the Government implements, but I think it is really important that it’s a consistent approach, and we are prepared to support our students right through to the end of Term 2 in the remote learning environment,” she said.

Ms Hudak added that the out-of-classroom teaching was working well and she praised everyone who is contributing to making the remote learning program successful.

“Teachers, students and their parents, are all doing an amazing job,” she said.

“It obviously takes a little while to settle into it, but now we are approaching week four, hopefully things are getting a little bit easier for everybody. I think the important thing is that everybody just keeps working together to support each other.

“If parents need help – that they reach out – and I know that teachers are certainly supporting one another.”

Ms Hudak is confident that her student’s will emerge from the situation in good shape and that they won’t be disadvantaged, providing they have done the work.

“The nature of VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education) and the VCAL (Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning) assessment, which people may be concerned about, is that students are assessed against each other and are all experiencing the same level of challenge at the moment,” she said.

“And so the best thing that students can do, is to just keep at it, so that whenever we go back to school, that they haven’t put themselves in a position to be disadvantaged because they didn’t engage in remote learning – that is the most important thing.”

The logistics of operating a remote learning program has at least been made possible thanks to the technology that exists today, with a variety of online communication platforms available to support the task.

“Every school is approaching it slightly differently and adapting to suit their own school’s community in what they are able to put in place – many are using platforms that they have worked with prior to remote learning,” Ms Hudak said.

“At the Senior College, we’re using the Google Classrooms platform and Cisco Webex for our conferencing system. We’re doing online learning with virtual ‘face-to-face’ classrooms, where teachers and students can see each other and the teachers can efficiently explain the work.

“We’ve also implemented a structured timetable, which is quite different to our previous timetable, and that’s to ensure that the students have sufficient time to work through the set work and to seek help if they need it, through contacting their teachers.

“I think that both schools and parents and students are doing a great job navigating all of those different platforms. Most of our staff are working from home, and any students who have the need may attend the school, which is a different setting in a senior school to a primary school, but we don’t have many students working on site.”