Everywhere that Cairns Catholic Education’s Executive Director Bill Dixon goes lately, he receives favourable comments about how well Catholic schools adjusted to the COVID-19 crisis to deliver remote learning.
Testament, he says, to the agility of leadership and staff in schools who stepped up with dedication. Additionally, validation of the huge investment in quality systems and technology that Cairns Catholic Education has made in recent years.
“Staff responded with professionalism to keep the welfare and learning of students at the centre of their actions.”
The technology in place made the transition that bit easier,. This is despite posing a steep learning curve for many, under less than ideal conditions.
Staff, students and families made huge leaps forward in their ability to use digital platforms for learning and communication during remote learning. The learning curve has been exponential. Fortunately digital learning environments have enabled the continuity of learning, communication and engagement.
Schools that were already incorporating digital technologies into their lessons found the transition to home-based learning much easier.
“By the time the coronavirus shutdown occurred, the Science Department already had Microsoft Teams in place as the system to interact digitally with students,” tells St Augustine’s College, Parramatta Park Head of Science, Jesse Zell. She says that students adapted very quickly to the online learning environment.
“You would never in your wildest dreams imagine a school thriving amidst such a challenge.”
But that’s exactly what the secondary college and other Catholic schools around the Cairns Diocese did. This includes St Andrew’s Catholic College, Redlynch, which used their Digital Learning Environment as a digital hub for students to access all the learning tools they need,” explains the college’s IT Manager, Damon Thompson.
“The improved video conferencing and multimedia options now offered have excited our teachers. They plan to keep using their new skills with students going forward.”
Partnership with Parents
A strong relationship between the school and family has never been more important. Catholic schools recognise and value parents as the first educators of their child. We work in close partnership with them. The learning from home experience reinforced the importance of this relationship. It also ensured families felt supported by their school communities.
“The school supports all of my children and they have materials adjusted for their capabilities. They are busting to start their schoolwork every day and the quality of work shows just how dedicated the teaching and learning support staff are,” tells one parent at Holy Cross School, Trinity Park after the first week of learning from home.
Compassionate in Times of Need
COVID-19 has impacted all Far North families to some degree. Additionally, long after the country lifts restrictions, financial stress will linger, and we resume ‘the new normal’. Catholic schools are compassionate and accommodating to the needs of their existing and prospective families. They do this to ensure they do not deny a Catholic education to anyone due to financial constraints.
Tuition fee concessions of 100% are currently in place for those who are financially distressed. It will continue for all current and prospective families wanting a quality Catholic education.
“We are so grateful to Saints for how they fairly and proactively managed all aspects of the COVID-19 shutdown for our son and our family. The learning from home experience was well delivered and organised. Overall, we welcomed the removal of boarding fees during this difficult time,” tells one parent at St Augustine’s College, Parramatta Park.
In 2021, there will be no increase in tuition fees as our regional economy continues its recovery.
Setting Up for the Future
Catholic schools have a commitment to equip this next generation with the skills they’ll need as 21st century learners.
“One of the benefits of learning from home was that students had to develop digital literacy skills which will assist them immeasurably in the future,” tells Amanda Speziali, Year 6 teacher at Good Counsel Primary School, Innisfail.
Catholic schools are incorporating their learnings from this crisis to better position themselves for any future disruptions. It ensures that regular classrooms have the successes experienced during the period of online learning embedded into them so that students have enhanced educational opportunities.
As Bill Dixon said in a special online coronavirus edition of Catholic Education’s Raise magazine, “No doubt there is still much more we can learn from our recent experiences and that has the capacity to greatly enhance how we think about schools of the future.”
When this generation graduates, the employment landscape will have evolved. Parents have a choice to find the right school for their child and can be responsive to their needs for the future. Catholic schools have proven they are up to the task.