One unit would be working to immediately attempt to address digital divide issues and try and close the gap on the number of students without technology or connectivity at home to as close to zero as possible. This would also have the benefit of connecting poor families as well as their children to the major source of communication the rest of us share these days.
The other unit would set up online learning officers at each school board who have the latitude to make agile changes to organize staff so that they are able to communicate with students and leverage existing digital communications to try and provide genuine alternative programming that will allow students to resume their face to face studies eventually without the time away being a complete loss. Throwing out generic material online isn't going to do any of that.
Being an ex-IT technician I'm very interested in trying to quickly resolve the logistical and technical issues around the digital divide: Dusty World: Exceptional Times: Using a Pandemic to Close the Digital Divide. I'd leave the people management to others better suited to it.
At times like this the top heavy nature of Ontario Education with all the ministries, unions, boards, colleges and goodness knows what else, really comes into focus. We're unable to put the focus where it should be (on enabling student learning, remember?) because they're all too busy getting in each other's way.
I was involved in a VoicED podcast yesterday on how student privacy could be compromised as we rapidly migrate online in response to the pandemic: EP 06 – Special Pandemic Edition: Transforming Education Under Pressure | voicEd
Student data privacy is already quite opaque and uncertain with boards all doing it differently, or not at all, with little ministry of government oversight and many questions around who has access to what. A sudden shift online is only likely to make things worse, but it's also an opportunity. An opportunity to begin seriously teaching digital skills in a coherent and meaningful way instead of the piecemeal curriculum we've cobbled together to date. With better digital fluency will come a more responsive and effective online learning response to this pandemic.
If this situation has shown anything, it's that digital communications are vital in creating a coherent social response to this crisis. Closing the digital divide would not only help those students on the wrong side of it, but would also create a more inclusive Canada. We couldn't be bothered to do it when life was easy, but maybe we could do it now when life is hard.
I'll end this with the 3 suggestions I ended the podcast with:
1) Use existing board walled gardens (UGDSB's UGcloud is particularly well put together) - that's vetted material in a secure environment - all UGDSB students will know how to use it too. Whichever board your child is in, there will be an educational technology equivalent where they can work in a protected space... and communicate with classmates and teachers!
2) Parents shouldn't stress out because of all the 'we're giving you the tools to home-school' rhetoric coming out of the government. No one expects you do get a degree in teaching and begin doing it effectively. This piece from the NY Times might talk you down a bit: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/19/opinion/coronavirus-home-school.html/ Keep in mind that the 'anyone can teach' nonsense is recent Ontario government rhetoric and not true. Putting that expectation on yourself at this difficult time isn't fair to you or your family.Created and maintained by UGDSB, the site is designed to provide safe, curriculum-based activities while your child is away from school. This secure website is available only to UGDSB students. Available content for gr 1-8. @UG2GO #InsideUG2Go #StaySafeStayHome #DiscoverTJRC pic.twitter.com/c2lvAeWI9W— Terry James RC (@terryjamesrc) March 19, 2020
3) Talk to your kids' teachers! If you're in my board you have online access on UGcloud to do this - most other boards have similar systems. The vast majority of us want to help and want to do something. We're generally frustrated at all the suits who keep telling us not to. We should be signing out laptops to the students who need them and providing internet for those without, not doing PR and wringing our hands about liability.
What does UNICEF say?
“Children need structure. Full stop. And what we’re all having to do, very quickly, is invent entirely new structures to get every one of us through our days” - so 'look after yourselves for two weeks' isn't helpful according to psychologists...
Discussions about this are happening in many places:
... just not where they should be happening between ministry, boards and teachers.