VCE students and those living in remote areas with little internet connectivity should be prioritised in any plan to stagger the reopening of Victorian schools, according to Federation University deputy dean of education Associate Professor Jenene Burke.
With the state government yet to decide on a date for students to return, Associate Professor Burke believes vce students should be among the first back in the classrooms ot help alleviate some of the anxiety of their final year of formal schooling.
"Returning en-masse could be difficult because we are not sure what's going to happen in the future ... but if we are going to prioritise a return to school you definitely have to think about VCE because of the anxiety ... of falling behind even though there is a set curriculum in preparation for external exams," she said.
Queensland has announced a return to school for prep and year 1, and year 11 and 12 students from next week with other year levels to resume on May 25 if infection rates remain low, while NSW has opted to have children return one day a week for now.
Associate Professor Burke said most students and families had settled well in to remote learning, after an initial period of adjustment, but was concerned some would be struggling, particularly children with learning and other disabilities.
"For some kids it's very difficult to spend all day online, and it's often very difficult for them to actually communicate online through their mode of communication," she said. "I think they are the forgotten ones."
Alfredton Primary School principal Laurel Donaldson said children with additional needs were getting extra support during remote learning.
Term 2 is officially underway! Thank you to our teachers, principals and parents who are #LearningfromHome. We know it's been tough and we appreciate all of your hard work to keep our children learning. If you have any queries, call 1800 338 663. https://t.co/Uu3iJRRpzjpic.twitter.com/pGZesRAZgr— DET (@DETVic) April 19, 2020
"We have to complement the support our parents and community have provided to our students and staff and the kids have got to be congratulated on how they have adapted so well to the change of classroom learning," she said.
Ms Donaldson said students with additional needs that were on their students with a disability program were getting one-on-one support with help from teacher's aides, and students not part of the program but needing extra support were receiving it through small group and individual sessions with teachers.
"We can manage it well and we know there's an end in sight," she said.
St James' Parish Primary co-principal Peter Fahey said pupils and families had gone through a period of adjustment.
"Initially the first few weeks of remote learning there was a period of excitement because it was different, then there was a slight period of frustration when kids and families had been in insolation four to six weeks and the frustration wasn't directed at school but because we were in contact we became a sounding board.
"Now there's a real ease and engagement with the children and we are able to find a real balance in line with the academic practice."
Kids have five or six weeks over the summer holidays, then go back and I think it will be similar in this case except they will know their teacher, they will know who is in their grade and already have those classroom routines established.Associate Professor Jenene Burke
Mr Fahey said he was looking forward to having children back at school when it was deemed safe, but said a staggered start as seen in other states could cause problems for families with more than one child.
"I can see real hassles for families with more than one child and a staggered start, and in NSW where they're going back one day a week I could see that causing frustration. I think they just need to make a decision on when to come back."
Associate Professor Burke said teachers deserved more credit for the success of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Teachers are doing some very creative things to teach kids using remote means. I don't think teachers have been getting credit for their work. There's a lot of discussion around parents not coping or keen to get kids back to school but not so much about teachers.
"I've seen some very creative and interesting stuff that kids are doing from home."
She said teachers were aware of students who were coping well, and not so well with remote learning and offering extra support where needed.
When students do return to schools, she expects it to be no different to the first day of a new school year.
"Kids have five or six weeks over the summer holidays, then go back and I think it will be similar in this case except they will know their teacher, they will know who is in their grade and already have those classroom routines established."
And she does not believe some experts who have warned children will "lose" months of learning if not at school.
"With VCE, because it's a set curriculum, provided the teacher is able to keep up with the curriculum at home I can't see why they would be behind," she said.
"I don't think it's as bigger deal as some experts are talking about ... I don't see it like that at all. There's still been very excellent learning taking place."
Have you signed up to The Courier's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in Ballarat.