Teachers in Schools for Specific Purposes and Intensive English Centres are working with a unique set of challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic as they strive to provide educational continuity for students with special needs and English as an additional language or dialect requirements.
Federation President Angelo Gavrielatos told the ABC the usual complexities of teaching these students were being magnified by the obstacles of providing lessons remotely and online. He also said the crisis had highlighted serious inequities in society and access to technology for home schooling.
“The demands there [in SSPs] are even greater because of high levels of complexity when it comes to student needs in those settings so we’re very mindful about that,” he told callers to Cassie McCullagh’s Focus program on Monday morning.
“These are very difficult areas and the complexities associated with student needs and the distance learning that we’re trying to implement, the online learning that we’re trying to implement, becomes even far more complicated than it already is.
“It’s also complicated for the students who attend our Intensive English Centres, where there’s other levels of complications and many other specialist settings as well.
“So we’re juggling a whole lot of those areas in the end and … scrambling to do the very best we can, recognising we are talking about some very complex high needs with respect to the students that we look after in those schools.”
Mr Gavrielatos agreed with McCullagh that home schooling for students with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, where there is no English spoken and even the students themselves might have little or no English as new arrivals, had to be catered for to maintain continuity.
The latest data indicates that about 46 per cent of teachers are working from home, while 99 per cent of high school students are at home, as are about 95 per cent of primary school students.
“Teacher numbers are still a bit high with respect to those going in to school each day,” he said. “We’re worried about that from a health angle and those numbers we expect will decline over the course of this week.”
“The challenges are amplified because they are trying to create some semblance of normality — and it’s not normal for kids — as they grapple to ensure some educational continuity.
“There are all sorts of things going on [for teachers] from different kinds of online learning or distance teaching … right through to developing hard-copy packages of material to be either picked up from school or dispatched from schools.
“Because let’s remember there’s serious access and equity issues here that often get overlooked with some families not having access to the hardware and other technologies, let alone internet access, that may be assumed on the part of some.
“This crisis has put the spotlight on serious inequities, which we’ve known existed but haven’t been properly attended to. Serious inequities across the system and between systems where some kids have got access to technology that others couldn’t even dream of.
“One thing’s for certain, we will do our very best during this crisis, our very best, but certainly when we come out of this crisis, as we will, we’re not going to go back to the old normal. A lot of questions have been asked and they need to be addressed moving forward for our society.”
Scott Coomber is a staff writer