State’s secret weapon if schooling goes online
HUNDREDS of student teachers will be the state's secret weapon if Queensland schooling is forced online.
But the plan to bolster the digital education frontline comes as it's revealed swathes of regional pupils don't have access to the internet or, in some cases, computers.
Students are set to return to school next week, but classes will be largely online, sparking fears the state's e-learning platform could crash under the pressure.
An announcement on whether school will resume after the holidays is expected to be made by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Education Minister Grace Grace on Tuesday or Wednesday.
The Sunday Mail has spoken to major education stakeholders who say students are all but certain to return to school next week.
It can be revealed that about 500 university student teachers, due to graduate in June, have been enlisted to help deliver online classes.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data reveals in 52 of Queensland's 89 electorates one in 10 homes don't have internet access.
In Bundaberg one in five homes, or 20 per cent, do not have internet access, while in Mt Isa it's 16 per cent, the Southern Downs 19.3 per cent and Woodridge 15 per cent.
Despite this, stakeholders believe Queensland will follow the lead of other states and territories, including Victoria and the ACT in reopening schools for Term 2, with mostly online classes.
Premier Palaszczuk had come under fire for keeping schools open amid the COVID-19 crisis. But after outcry about teacher and student safety, Queensland state schools went pupil-free in the last week before the holidays to help teachers prepare for online classes.
LNP leader Deb Frecklington called on the Palaszczuk Government to provide students with devices, quality internet and printed materials if they have to study from home.
"The desperate reality is there are children in Queensland in disadvantaged situations who don't have breakfast at home, let alone an iPad to learn on,' she said.
"Queensland's school system needs to wrap its arms around every student and ensure equal access to education.
"Coronavirus must not divide the community into the haves and have nots.
"No student should be left behind because of the coronavirus crisis."
Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates said health and safety for teachers and students remained a major concern if schools reopened in Term 2, even just for the children of essential workers, and demanded 'clarity' from the State Government.
"We continue to highlight the inconsistencies in health advice, where people can be fined $1000 for sitting on a park bench eating a kebab but it's OK for 3000 students and 400 teachers to be at school," he said. "That to us does not make any sense."
Mr Bates said Ms Palaszczuk and Ms Grace needed to spell out exactly how social distancing would work in schools and ensure they had enough 'basic supplies' such as soap and hand sanitiser, as well as daily cleaning.
One teacher from a lower socio-economic area outside Brisbane told The Sunday Mail that the Education Department's Learning Place crashed 'a couple of times' in trials before the holidays.
"It's going to struggle - there were a lot of technical issues with teachers trying to upload material," he said. "The biggest issue for us is the blind assumption that every kid has a computer and every home has internet access."
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Teachers Professional Association of Queensland vice-president Cameron Murray, whose organisation represents state and private school teachers, said many families would struggle to buy one computer let alone several for multiple child households.
"For a lot of kids, their only internet access is their mobile phone which is not conducive to working on an education platform," he said.
Mr Murray said teachers were 'under the pump' trying to prepare for online learning.
"They are not getting an Easter holiday - they're preparing for something new and which, to a great extent, is untested," he said.
P&Cs Queensland president Kevan Goodworth revealed his association had partnered with Queensland universities and the Education Department.
But he predicted there would be challenges, including access to computers and internet in battler and remote communities.
Mr Goodworth said some parents would also struggle to support their children in a home schooling environment.
"I'm not going to sugar-coat it - this is going to be a challenge," he said. "It will not be business as usual. I think we need to be prepared to be in this mode for much of Term 2."
Independent Education Union state secretary Terry Burke said he would be 'surprised' if private schools did not offer face-to-face classes for the children of essential workers 'but by and large kids are not going to be at school'.
Mr Burke said some private schools were standing down vital support staff and called on the Federal Government to amend its JobKeeper package to ensure they remain at work.
He said medically vulnerable staff also needed to be able to continue to work from home.
Queensland Catholic Education Commission executive director Dr Lee-Anne Perry said Catholic schools would be guided by the Premier's announcement but were ready to deliver classes 'in whatever format is needed'.
Independent Schools Queensland executive director David Robertson said he expected that 'at a minimum', schools would cater for vulnerable students and the children of essential workers in addition to providing online lessons.
Originally published as State's secret weapon if schooling goes online