By Chad Ingram
Last summer, as friends with school-aged children grappled with whether to send their kids physically back to school in the fall or opt for online options amid the COVID-19 pandemic, I continually repeated, and I think even wrote in this space, that I was thankful we had another year before our eldest daughter would enter kindergarten.
I think I allowed myself to indulge in the optimistic delusion that things would be different by then.
While it’s only January, registration for kindergarten this fall is now open, so my much better half and I are now staring down the barrel of that decision. While the provincial government is hoping many of us will have been vaccinated by the time the 2021/22 school year gets underway, there will still of course be a bunch of COVID-19-related protocols in place at that time. The legacy of the virus will mean that my children’s school experience will look much different than my own. As for what decision we’ll make, we’ve still got some time to figure it out.
Certainly I’ve heard plenty of anecdotes about the myriad challenges that at-home learning amid the pandemic poses, particularly for parents who are also working from home. That’s a pressure cooker of stress. Being familiar with the longstanding connectivity issues in Haliburton County, I’ve understood poor connection would pose an impediment for some, and have heard stories about students sitting in cars outside buildings with public wi-fi in order to complete their school work. That is certainly less than ideal.
However, for some local families, the current mandatory virtual learning environment is something they cannot afford. Literally. That is, the amount of data required for their children to sufficiently attend school virtually is too expensive. As county councillors heard in a delegation from social services agency Point in Time last week, online school takes place via Google Meet, which requires somewhere between .5 and 1.5 gigabytes per hour of classroom. So, at that rate, it doesn’t take long to burn through a family data package of say, 20 gigs per month.
There are some 150 students in the county for whom this is the case. They are not learning properly because they are without the proper resources.
Education is supposed to be the great equalizer, but it’s difficult for that to be the case when the requirements of online learning exceed a family’s data package. There are already great socio-economic disparities within the county, and this situation is only exacerbating them. The pandemic is also dramatically underscoring the deep pitfalls of poor internet connectivity, and any widespread solution to the county’s wi-fi woes is still years away.
In an ideal world, the provincial government and school board should be ensuring all students have the resources they require to learn properly in the current climate. In an ideal world, telecom providers should be assisting with this.
In the meantime, Point in Time has embarked on a campaign to raise funds to ensure all students in the county have the data coverage they need to learn virtually amid the pandemic. That could cost $180,000 for a year. They have made a financial request to the county and other organizations such as the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Associations. Anyone who wishes to support this cause should contact Point in Time.