Free computers for NSW kids to learn from home
Thousands of students will be loaned computers and even Wi-Fi modems so disadvantage children can still learn online during the coronavirus epidemic.
From this week, thousands of laptops, tablets, internet dongles for mobile broadband access and Wi-Fi modems will be loaned to students who have been unable to join online lessons from home.
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell is also in talks with telecommunications companies to provide disadvantaged students free internet or extra download capability.
Students sitting the HSC this year will be given priority access to the loaned computing devices.
"We have been surveying schools to identify those students who do not have access to the internet or devices, and we are in the process of delivering thousands of devices and technology support to help students access work online," Ms Mitchell said.
"We are making sure that every student receives quality education no matter what access to technology they have."
However, schools where too few students have internet access will not go online at all and will instead send students hard copies of their schoolwork, such as John Warby Public at Airds and Rosemeadow Public in Sydney's southwest, Jesmond Public in Newcastle, St George's Basin Public in the Shoalhaven, Bulahdelah Central on the north coast, Rollands Plains Upper Public on the mid north coast, and Hillvue Public in Tamworth.
The Bega High School hall was turned into a mail delivery room on Friday to send students hard copies of their schoolwork, where their parents have indicated they do not have a working internet connection at home.
Hard copy schoolwork will need to be returned to collection boxes set up outside the front of schools, sent by post or scanned and emailed to teachers.
It is each school principal's decision whether to run learning from home online, in hard copy or a combination of both, depending on each school's readiness and the availability of internet at home for the students - although the education department's preference is online.
Students who do not complete their schoolwork at home without a valid reason from their parents will still be marked absent without approved leave, and home school liaison officers will be sent out to find out why.
In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Telegraph, the education department director responsible for home learning during the COVID-19 epidemic, Jane Simmons, debunked myths about how students will learn from home.
For starters, teachers will know whether students have logged into online learning programs such as Google's G Suite for Education, Adobe Connect and Microsoft 365 and left the computer running while they play video games or head to the skate park.
"If you're using an online system, teachers can see when students log in or log out," Ms Simmons said.
"There are activity logs, so teachers will know if a student has logged in but are not doing their work."
But in homes where there are more school students than computers, parents will need to make arrangements with teachers about how the children share screen time.
"Teachers will be reasonable about scheduling clashes but online classes that are live-streamed with a teacher will need to be the priority," she said.
"The other children will have work they can do without being on a computer, such as reading a book."
While teachers can interact with students online, including video conferencing, younger children will also need constant supervision from parents.
"The teacher can 'see' the students online but there's an expectation there will be an adult in the room, although there is not an expectation the adult has to constantly help them with their work," Ms Simmons said.
"We would certainly expect primary students to be supervised, except when the kids are out playing at morning tea or lunch.
"There has to be adult supervision for young kids - you can't have a seven-year-old at home by themselves - but if you have a 16, 17 or 18-year-old they should be reasonably independent and are being encouraged to be more independent than they usually would."
Students will not be punished if they complete their work outside normal school hours, in a bid to keep the new arrangement as flexible as possible for parents who work.
Thousands of teachers from across the state are sharing tips and lesson plans with curriculum specialists in virtual staffrooms, as they come to grips with the new remote teaching arrangement.
Teachers will rearrange their Term 2 and Term 3 plans to topics that are more easily taught online.
The education department is also drafting plans to host online fitness, singing and dancing classes to give students a break from their devices.
Students at public schools in NSW will not have to sit tests this term and the education department is currently considering whether to scrap them next term or whether schools can administer take-home tests. Year 12 students are still sitting assessment tests, however.
Teacher Tess Donohue has been given a hard lesson - it's harder to keep her own kids in line than a classroom full of students.
"Teaching your own children is completely different to teaching in a classroom," Ms Donohue, 36, said.
"My own kids don't listen to me like a normal class would, they backchat and don't have the same respect."
Aside from discipline problems, the Willoughby mum has been surprised at how well her children's school has prepared their family to run classes from the kitchen bench.
On Monday last week Ms Donohue frantically splurged on academic workbooks from the newsagent, but hasn't had to use them since St Thomas Catholic in Willoughby began running online classes through Google's G Suite for Education.
To prove her children have done their schoolwork, Ms Donohue has sent teachers videos of her daughter Neave, five, reading and throwing a ball, and scanned and emailed handwriting exercises by her eight-year-old son Callum.
"The teachers have been absolutely fantastic in providing task-based work with really detailed instructions for the parents to follow and I feel really well supported," she said.
"Because my kids are little I access Google Classrooms for them and pull off the required work, then we sit down and do it together at the kitchen bench or dining room table."
Both Callum and Neave, from Year 2 and Kindergarten respectively, read picture books aloud in unison with videos on YouTube or digital library app Epic.
The children start classes at the same time as they would if they were still going to school, but have found they are completing their work in record time without distractions.
Originally published as Free computers for NSW kids to learn from home