Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

SocietyMarch 23, 2020

What does the shutdown mean for schools, ECEs and universities?

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

With New Zealand moving to the highest Covid-19 alert level within 48 hours, here’s how schools and early childhood facilities will be affected.

What in the world is going on? 

With New Zealand’s first cases of community transmission confirmed, the prime minister has announced an immediate lift in the Covid-19 alert status from level two to level three, with a lift to level four in the next 48 hours. 

This puts the country in a nationwide shutdown which means all educational facilities will be closed from tomorrow. Educational facilities include primary, intermediate and secondary schools, tertiary institutions, and early childhood education facilities (ECEs). 

How long will educational facilities be closed for?

Four weeks, two of which will be counted as school holidays which have now been brought forward to minimise disruption to classrooms. However, the shutdown could be extended if the situation fails to improve.

What about children of essential workers? Will schools be closed off for them as well?

Tomorrow, schools will officially close but exceptions will be made to those whose parents are identified as essential workers, such as doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and police. This will give time for these parents to plan and make appropriate arrangements. A full list of essential workers will be communicated to parents via schools so they know who can and can’t send their children. From midnight Wednesday, however, all schools will close entirely. 

So how will teaching be done from now on? 

Thanks to technology and broadband internet, classrooms will, all going well, operate online and remotely. The minister of education, Chris Hipkins, said work is already underway to prepare for online distance learning in all educational settings where appropriate. 

He also said the government was looking to address equity issues around online learning, estimating that it affects around 20% of students in New Zealand. “We’re looking at how quickly we can deal with those equity issues so that if we do end up in a period where kids need to be learning from home for longer, then we can make sure we can respond to that as quickly as possible.”

“We know a number of schools can start online learning fairly quickly. Their kids have devices, the families have broadband at home, and they have the platforms to deliver online learning. We’ve already had a lot of offers from schools who have that capability who are offering to collaborate and share with the schools that don’t. That’s a really positive development and over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking to build on that as much as we can. In terms of equity at home… that’s something we’re working very closely with the telecommunications companies about. We’ve been working on that for the last couple of weeks now.”

What about students with learning disabilities?

“My advice to families who have children who have learning difficulties is to continue talking to their schools and health services who support them,” said Hipkins. “This is going to be difficult, but we’ll work with those families to smooth things as much as we can.”

What happens to educational providers who receive funding from the government? Will that be affected by the shutdown?

Hipkins reassured educational providers that funding will continue to flow as normal and that funding for early childhood and tertiary providers “will not be cut or clawed back based on non-attendance or failure to meet key performance indicators”.

What impact will the shutdown potentially have on students?

Obviously this will be a disruptive period for everyone, especially for our young people who will likely have a hard time understanding what’s going on. Dr Dougal Sutherland from Victoria University of Wellington’s psychology clinic says it’s important to consider the broader psycho-social impact of school closure plans on children.

“When schools send students home and have them work remotely, the accompanying sense of isolation and loss of social contact could lead to increased levels of loneliness for some young people and even triggering of depression for others.

“Being isolated from peers and lacking the support of teachers could lead to elevated levels of anxiety for some kids and teens as their fears run wild without the calm rationale of adults around them. This anxiety could be made worse by loss of the daily structure that comes with regular classes and timetables. Daily routines and structures help provide a sense of predictability and stability and without these life becomes less certain.

“On the other side of the coin, loss of structure and supervision could lead to increased levels of antisocial behaviour and delinquency for some youth. Bored teens with lots of unstructured and unsupervised time on their hands doesn’t necessarily lead to good outcomes.”

Read more: Emily Writes: On being a parent in the Covid-19 era

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