TAFE staff meet challenges of pandemic

TAFE teachers and all related employees have done an incredible job of adjusting teaching and learning delivery to meet the needs of students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During term 1, the world was adjusting to the health requirements of living and working in a pandemic situation. TAFE teachers, students and their communities were directly affected. Federation members began to take collective action to stop the risk of COVID-19.

Collectively, teaching sections across NSW used the Work Health and Safety Act to cease teaching in theory and practical classes to ensure the health risks of COVID-19 were minimised. Members were calling for TAFE management to cease face-to-face teaching to manage the risk.

On 30 March, TAFE management announced a “pause” to most classes, to give time for preparation for alternative delivery to meet health and safety requirements, a successful result for our members.

Teachers are now working with many different teaching strategies. These include direct one-on-one, telephone, email, online, Moodle, Microsoft teams and altered practical classrooms to deal with the requirements of students. It has been an incredibly difficult process, with teachers working increased hours to alter delivery while keeping contact with students.

Teacher consultants for students with disability undertook work to ensure their students’ needs were being address in the new COVID-19 environment. Our counsellors transformed student interview sessions by using safe procedures including online and telephone counselling. TAFE Children’s Centre members changed processes to keep their children, families and colleagues safe and healthy.

Our members have clearly illustrated they are not simply working online or digitally. TAFE teachers are educating and working in this period, in response to a worldwide public health crisis.

Some of the key issues our members have raised include the following:

  • the digital divide is a great concern when teachers, students or support staff don’t have access to quality broadband, hardware or access to TAFE systems. This includes the frustration students face with logging on to the TAFE system
  • students without adequate IT skills are definitely the hardest hit during the COVID-19 environment
  • if there is no long-term classroom contact, keeping students engaged will be difficult.

Students of carpentry, plumbing, electrical, horticulture and other disciplines returned to college on 11 May. To assist students, many trade teachers have been working on safe access to practical classes.

Major changes to the layout of practical workshops have been implemented to ensure physical distancing during face-to-face learning. Changes completed include workshop alterations, student access to corridors, waiting areas to enter classrooms and building hygiene. This increased workload, plus completing essential risk assessments, has greatly affected staff members.

COVID 19’s effect on our students’ employment is also a major issue. Apprentices have lost their jobs, and full-time students have lost the part-time work they need to pay rent, internet connection and data downloads.

In particular, tourism and hospitality students have been dramatically affected. Some colleges are reporting about 60 per cent of first-year apprentice commercial cookery students have lost their jobs.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a great challenge and TAFE staff and students need further support from state and federal governments. Teachers, students and support staff continue to work towards ensuring our colleges are meeting the health and safety requirements of the pandemic.