LOCAL primary, secondary and specialist school students and their families are this week heading into a new term that will look drastically different from any they’ve experienced before, following a directive from Education Minister James Merlino that all state schools switch to remote and flexible learning to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Under the new policy, students will complete their school work from home for at least the next 10 weeks, using online platforms such as Compass and Microsoft Teams to access educational resources and communicate with their peers and teachers, including via video chat.

Limited on site attendance will still occur, for vulnerable students without access to a suitable learning environment at home, and for practical assessments that cannot be completed at home, such as chemistry experiments.

Year 12 students will complete a reduced number of written assessments at home under the supervision of a parent or another nominated person, who will be required to sign a form confirming that only the allowed time and study materials were used.

End of year VCE exams have been delayed to December, and the General Achievement Test (GAT) has been postponed to October or November and may play a larger role than usual in ATAR calculations. VCAL students will have more time to complete their courses, consistent with the revised dates for the VCE.

 

‘Not the best, but we’ll get through’

 

Korumburra Secondary College (KSC) captain Andrea Axford, 18, said although the situation was not ideal, students who stayed focused and put in the work should not see their results suffer.

Aiming for a high enough ATAR to get into a geology course at university next year, Andrea said the key to minimising distractions at home would be setting up a space dedicated exclusively to study, separate from all other activities – for her, it’ll be a desk in her bedroom; for a friend, it’s a rearranged spare room “so she can walk out of her room and into her ‘classroom’”.

She’ll be sad to miss out on social aspects of school, especially sports days, where year 12s typically “go all out” in making the most of their final opportunity to dress up in house colours; the year 12 camp to Melbourne to check out the different university campuses; and the general spirit of camaraderie that had developed in the small year 12 cohort during term one.

But, it was comforting to know all VCE students in the state were in the same boat.

“Obviously, it’s not the best to happen in your final, and most crucial year of education – it’s really, really different learning new stuff in an environment you’re really comfortable in and not used to using as a classroom for extended amount of time.

“But we’ll get through. I maintain the philosophy that as long as I have the motivation and drive to keep up the same amount of work as I was doing at school, I should be fine.

“And what we all keep reminding ourselves of is that every student in the state is under same conditions; everyone’s locked in their house, not just rural kids, so there’s no inequity about it.”

 

Learning curve for the whole family

 

For parents, the most important role will be maintaining the normal routine of the school week, said Shelley Thomas, who’ll be supervising a year 8 and a year 12 student while also working from home herself, in Korumburra.

In the Thomas household, this will mean ensuring KSC students Liam, 13, and Kaylah 18 (also a school captain), are out of bed and at their desks by 9am, taking breaks at recess and lunch time, and sticking to the school policy of staying off their mobile phones during class.

Shelley’s already invested in upgraded internet to give Liam and Kaylah the best chance of success in online learning, which she describes as a “whole new skill set” but one she trusts they’re self motivated enough to embrace and thrive on.

“It’s definitely going to be a learning curve, and for kids that aren’t as self-motivated, it’s going to be an eye opener, but the school’s offered plenty of support, making sure everyone has a computer, making sure teachers are available, keeping us updated and keeping the communication lines open, so that gives me the confidence that it’s going to be successful,” Shelley said.

 

Schools ready for the challenge

 

Korumburra Secondary College principal Vaya Dauphin says her teaching team is ready for the challenge of online learning, and she’s confident KSC’s 30 year 12 students will have the support they need to achieve the results they’re aiming for.

“All our staff are super clear that they [year 12s] are our number one priority,” Ms Dauphin said.

“Other year levels, at the end of the day, will be ok. If they experience some disruption for a term or even longer- they’ll survive.

“Year 12s have a lot more riding on the next six months, so we’ve put in a significant effort not only to moving online but to providing quality online, and making sure we’re all over what’s happening with the VCAA [Victorian Curriculum And Assessment Authority] and how the [VCE] certificate might change and how to make sure the students are getting everything they need in the best way possible.

“Our teachers are frightening in their passion and commitment. I don’t know how much of a break any of them had over the holidays, they’ve been so busy setting up their classes and systems, working out all the logistics.”

The school is providing laptops to students who need them, and the Korumburra Rotary Club has donated 10 prepaid internet dongles to ensure all students have access to online materials.

Ms Dauphin said they were hoping to be back on site in term three and keeping year 12s on track to graduate this year.

For now though, the focus is on maximising the opportunities presented by the new learning model.

“I’m sure there’s been some stress and tears for the year 12s, but out of the darkness, there’s an opportunity to really practice being in the online space and lots of possibilities for how we can use it in the future. Looking at it that way, there’s a silver lining.”