July 12, 2021

Pandemic Education Woes

Like most parents in Ontario in 2020, when the March break started and it was announced that it would be extended by a couple of weeks, we figured that would be that.  Little did we all know.  Before the end of that first few weeks, the government announced that schools would remain closed until September!  All the kids had to move into online learning.

A few years ago we decided to drop our home internet.  We live in the country and in a valley, so our only option for home internet was satellite or dial-up.  We had opted for satellite when we moved there.  It was great for the first several years, but then it got slower and slower.  I call it "traffic volume", but my husband, who spent the majority of his career working in high tech, and in particular with satellites, said it was because business customers are more important to the provider so they, quite literally, dialed the stream back on home customers.  He called numerous times to complain and we would see improvement for a while, but then it would start to get slower again.  

It got to the point where it was so slow, it was only slightly better than dial-up.  This went on for a couple of years where we would have kind of moderate, almost okay, service for about a week each month, and then it would dry up so that we couldn't even get emails.  Some loud phone calls and persistent complaints revealed that for some bizarre reason we had been pretty much permanently dialed-back for the past couple of years.  As a result of the complaints we were refunded one month of service (ring-a-ding-ding) and turned back on full.  I'm not sure why any of the techs had been able to make this apparently simple discovery over the past few years of complaints, but we'd had enough.  We dropped the internet.  

In its place we decided we would go with cell phones for each of us, with data plans.  If necessary we could use the phone as a 'hotspot' and allow the computer to use the phone's data for a short while.  For my teenage son this was a kind of torture because it meant he couldn't play most of his games online.  For his schooling, it meant that we had very inconsistent internet access for his sudden shove into online learning. 

My son was a grade 10 student at the time.  As I said above, we live in the country.  As a result, none of his friends lives anywhere near us.  This means that school is his main source of contact.  Aside from that, he does better in an in-person learning environment.  He needs the teacher for direct contact and motivation, so they are available to encourage him and to also respond to any questions on a one-on-one basis.  This was now gone.  A lot of things added up to big problems:  unreliable internet, no classroom setting, no friend contact, no motivation to do the work independently.  Consequently, he had to repeat grade 10 English, math, and science.  His fourth class had enough marks for him to pass without having to repeat it.  

September rolled around and classes did indeed start.  He was very happy to head back to school, even though it meant he had to wear a mask from the moment he got on the bus until the moment he got off the bus.  Schools moved to a "quadmester" format, which had its own challenges.  He spent all day, every day, for a week on one subject; and all day, every day the following week on a second subject.  The quadmester was basically half of a regular semester, or about 10 weeks long, with only 2 subjects being covered per quadmester.  

He had already started grade 10 English when schools shut down.  So in September the teacher gave him, and others in his position, a big assignment to do on the required reading book.  If they got it done by the time of the end of the first quadmester and did well enough, they would pass grade 10 English without having to repeat it!  He got it done.  He did have to repeat grade 10 math, but it was okay.  He got through the science by also doing an assignment.  He started his grade 11 work.  In the second quadmester, which started in early/mid November, it started to look like there might be another shut-down soon.  

After Christmas holidays, which were four weeks instead of the usual two, he returned to school in time for his exams.  Right afterwards the schools closed again.  By now the schools had figured out a system and they were able to lend out laptops, internet hubs, and other technology items to students.  The hub meant my son would be able to do his work online.  Hooray!  His grade 11 English teacher, obviously thinking and planning ahead, had already handed out the books that would be needed for her course in the fourth quadmester.  Fortunately for my son he had a spare and math scheduled for the third quadmester.  That spare meant he had every other week off and this enabled him to kind of keep on top of the math homework.  Since most of the province was under a lock-down, I was at home to make sure he got up on time and was planted in front of the computer for his school work, while I was planted in front of my own work laptop doing work (using a hub of my own brought from the office).  

School never did go back to in-class.  As my son finished his final exam for his grade 11 studies this past June, I congratulated him on becoming a high school senior.  His comment to me, which says more about the effects of the pandemic than anything else I've read or thought of, was this, "Mom, I feel like I'm still in grade 10. This covid thing has completely messed up my high school."  

It has.  Normal 17-year-old teenage boys are getting their driver's licenses, hanging out with their buddies, taking girls to the movies, and going to school dances.  It's a small consolation to either of us that he will have stories to tell his grandchildren some day.  It sucks.  There weren't even any school photos for grade 10 or 11.  We had to do our own.  Hopefully his senior year will be more normal.  I don't want to end up with a high school grad on my hands that still feels like they're in grade 10.