Canberra public school students return to classrooms as coronavirus restrictions ease


When five-year-old Rupert Aubrey goes back to school today he will show off how he has learned to hold a pencil for handwriting — something he perfected not in the classroom, but at home with his mum and dad.

The kindergarten student and his big sister, Nina, have been learning from home for the past three weeks due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Rupert has spent more of his kindergarten year at home than in his Duffy Primary School classroom, and he is happy to be one of thousands of ACT public school students returning to face-to-face learning today.

“I can play with my friends a lot more and do school with my friends,” he said.

For her part, eight-year-old Nina said she felt “a lot more grown up” because she was “so independent” while learning from home.

But she was less than impressed that it would be an additional week before she would join her brother back at school.

Students in preschool, kindergarten, years 1, 2 and 7, along with some year 11 and 12 pupils, are the first to return to classrooms today as part of a staggered reopening of public schools.

Next week, students in years 3, 4 and 10 will return, while years 5, 6, 8 and 9 will go back from June 2.

Catholic school students will also start returning today, while other private schools will continue the transition that some started last week.

‘Mixed feelings’ about return to school

Nina and Rupert’s mother, Claire Aubrey, said she had “mixed feelings” about her children returning to school.

“It will be great for them to see their friends, and it will be great to have less to do at home because I’m trying to work full-time,” she said.

“But we’ve also been really lucky … that everything has slowed down.

Primary school students
All Canberra public school students will be able to return to the classroom from June 2.(AAP: Dan Peled)

While she said she would not miss “tag-teaming” with her husband to supervise home learning and work full-time, Ms Aubrey said she had enjoyed being more hands on with her children’s education.

“Rupert is a very active kid and had no interest in holding a pencil at all,” Ms Aubrey said.

“But since I’ve been at home and working with him each day, I’ve seen him come so far and it’s been really, really exciting.”

Ms Aubrey said having her children learning from home had also inspired her to become more involved in the school community.

“I would actually really like to make sure I could be part of the classroom once a week and continue that awareness of what they are doing at school,” she said.

ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Association president, Kirsty McGovern-Hooley, said the reactions from parents about online learning and, now, a return to the classroom varied.

“At the other end of the scale, we’ve got parents who just want to be a lot more cautious about going back to school and are a little bit nervous about it.”

Virtual learning ‘no replacement’ for face-to-face

Teacher Rebecca Thompson
Rebecca Thompson is excited to have her students back in the classroom.(ABC News: Greg Nelson)

Ms McGovern-Hooley said the past few months of remote learning had been especially difficult for parents of younger children in preschool, kindergarten and year 1.

“They have a much more play-based face-to-face style of learning, and they’re not as independent and confident in using the computer and navigating through all of the things,” she said.

“For parents working at home and trying to help their kids at home with their learning, it’s been a very tough time.”

It is that in-person play-based learning that Duffy Primary School kindergarten teacher Rebecca Thompson is looking forward to resuming.

“Virtual learning, you can still see them and it’s great to have video chats, but it’s just not the same as face-to-face,” she said.

She has planned plenty of activities to allow students to socialise this week.

“They’ve been doing a lot of the content, but they’ve been missing that face-to-face children time. Getting them back play-based learning will be fantastic.”

The first-year teacher has faced a steep learning curve of her own, learning how to edit videos and navigate new programs to stay connected with students online.

Ms Thompson’s new skills won’t go to waste though, with the Duffy Primary kindergarten team already looking at ways to incorporate them into classroom teaching.

“We’ve gotten so creative and so imaginative with what we’ve done and what we’ve achieved, that we’re constantly thinking about how we can bring that back to the classroom,” she said.

ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry said many schools would continue with the new tools they learnt through the remote learning experience.

“There will be a lot of work about what are the great things about remote education that can continue to be used in campus learning as well,” she said.



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