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Reg Warkentin: Our schools deserve top marks

The education and development of our kids is the most important asset our province has

The importance of getting our kids back to school can’t be understated.

It is absolutely essential to individuals, families, society today and for the well-being of the future generation.

Back in March, when the decision to close down schools was made, there was little known about COVID-19, and much of what the experts thought they knew, such as rates of infection, hospitalization and mortality, turned out to be less than accurate.

With the knowledge at hand, and erring on the side of caution, the decision was made to shut down the public schools and shift towards mass homeschooling.

With very little time to make preparations, parents of kids too young to spend the days home alone were forced to make arrangements to either stay home along with their kids, or pay costly child-care fees.

According to a 2016 survey, the average cost for full-time child care in Alberta is $1,010 per month.

For some, the option to work from home was an attractive solution. Unfortunately, for many types of jobs, as well as businesses and families in central Alberta, working from home was simply not a viable option.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place, many were forced to bite the bullet and leave their jobs to care for children, no doubt contributing significantly to the staggering 13 to 14 per cent unemployment rate Red Deer has been hovering around, while disproportionately affecting working mothers.

This was largely a no-win situation, as businesses lost many of their key employees, and the individuals were forced to collect CERB and cut their family budgets accordingly.

It is a tribute to our public school system, its administrators and the teachers, that they were so able to quickly transition to an online environment.

Some students were able to excel in this environment, but many were not, surrounded by distractions such as consoles, television, siblings and neighbourhood friends.

Similarly, congratulations to parents who faced their own trials and tribulations working with their kids to complete coursework and assisting with lessons on subtracting fractions and book reports on Anne Frank.

The efficacy of homeschooling faced reasonable suspicion when it was announced partway through the semester that marks collected from September to March would be utilized if “the kids aren’t engaging.”

In hindsight, this announcement probably wasn’t a great motivator for students struggling or not feeling motivated with the coursework, and has likely resulted in many classrooms this fall spending extra time reviewing or redoing the prior year’s curriculum before they can move forward.

The education and development of our kids is the most important asset our province has. Not just as our children learn the fundamentals of math, science, language and history, but the development they receive participating in the formal structure of a school, socializing with their peers and observing and learning from their teachers as role models of how a civil society functions.

Without being part of this incredibly important experience, our future generation will surely suffer.

Our provincial government, with the support of federal spending and the tireless work of local school boards, administrators, assistants and the teachers, has done an admirable job of managing the risk of COVID and ensuring our kids have a safe place to learn and develop into tomorrow’s leaders.

Reg Warkentin is policy and government affairs manager for the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce.