Last week’s confusion around school closures in the face of continuing Coronavirus outbreaks had people baffled as the Independent Schools and Education Department Schools were taking very different stances.

To me it seemed obvious that many Independent Schools responded far faster in enforcing students returning from China remain in isolation. Last week the Education Department was hesitant to isolate students and when one of their Schools did it became news headlines: “Melbourne primary school defies state coronavirus advice and isolates students”. This week they have flipped and as the virus spreads globally and is at risk of becoming a pandemic, the Department is now enforcing the isolation recommendation below, but at what cost?

Today the Australian Government Department of Health has stated:

  • If you have travelled from Hubei Province within the past 14 days, you must isolate yourself until 14 days have elapsed after leaving Hubei Province.
  • If you have left, or transited through, mainland China on or after 1 February 2020 you must isolate yourself until 14 days after leaving China.
  • If you have been in close contact with a confirmed case of novel coronavirus, you must isolate yourself for 14 days after last contact with the confirmed case.

There are many underlying issues at play here, political volley-balling, political correctness and even racism, or perhaps the fear of being seen to be racist. However, what most people don’t understand is that many schools, and almost ALL independent schools and Higher Education Institutions have Learning Management Systems (LMS) that allow students to access their classes when they can’t attend a campus. Many are still as not as advanced as they should be but in the case of emergency situations like this, they could be the lifeline these students (and their schools) need.

I was employed as a Director of eLearning in 2019 with the task of selecting and deploying an LMS to support online & blended learning to ensure that every student could continue their education whether they were at Ski School at Mt Buller for three months of the year, on an exchange trip to France, in the Children’s Hospital unwell or in the case that the School had had to be shut down due to a power outage…or even a health pandemic. Coincidentally just as I began my role Australia was hit by the Swine Flu outbreak and several schools were closed across the State of Victoria at that time. I remember reading about a great moment of leapfrogging by a rural school who immediately responded by executing, seemingly overnight, a Learning Management System. This enabled schooling to continue with students accessing their classes and their teachers online via web conferencing. It is a moment etched in my mind, a classic example of making a firm decision, taking a calculated risk, embracing the solution and bringing the community along for the ride.

That was 2009 and have we not learnt anything? Did schools not complete risk assessments back then? If they did, what were the outcomes and recommendations and why were they not acted upon?

I would suggest that the investment in an LMS would not only provide an alternative virtual location for your School, but it could also mitigate risk. The risk could be huge and there have already been headlines focused on the impact on our economy if all our International students are delayed entry or self-isolating by the time Uni’s reopen in March. On a smaller scale think of your local schools, particularly those with international borders and the impact the loss of students would have at that level. Of course, it’s not as simple as everyone turning on an LMS tomorrow, like everything it takes time. We took five years to reach the point where EVERY educator had the training, knowledge and confidence to present their content online and I’m not talking about just whacking up hundreds of PowerPoints and .pdf’s either but thoughtfully curated content based on mastery learning and with UX principals top of mind. By 2017 the whole senior year’s curriculum was ready to be delivered in a blended model and given that every school’s senior cohorts are high-risk cohorts due to the focus on their results, future pathways, parent pressures and by the fact that they are the highest fee payers etc it makes sense to start there. In the US many states mandate that senior students must complete a minimum of one subject online to graduate, as a way of ensuring they are ready for higher education and the future of work.

With so many reasons for implementing an LMS, the time is now, what school board wouldn’t approve the expense when weighed against the risk right now? 

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