A Red Deer County parent says poor Internet service puts rural students at a disadvantage with online learning. (File photo from The Canadian Press)

A Red Deer County parent says poor Internet service puts rural students at a disadvantage with online learning. (File photo from The Canadian Press)

Online learning puts rural students at a disadvantage, leaving Central Alberta parent concerned

Alberta Education should consider regional challenges when deciding whether to go online

Many rural school children are hampered by poor internet service and will fall behind if Alberta Education orders all classes to go online again, says a Lousana-area mother.

Brittany Swanson said many people in larger centres do not understand how difficult it is to learn from home in rural areas where internet service is spotty.

It is impossible for her four children, aged 15, 13, 11 and six to log into their classrooms at the same time with their internet service at their Red Deer County farm. Chinook’s Edge School Division will loan out Chromebooks but that does not solve the problem.

“Even if I had four Chromebooks, not a single one of (her children) would be able to keep their connection or do a Zoom meet. Even sometimes when they do their assignments and are finished they disappear because they’ll lose connection while trying to save it.”

Her Grade 9 son had to completely redo three assignments that were lost because of unreliable internet service.

“My children’s frustration is very high.”

It has also been tough on parents. Swanson said many feel burned out after trying to step in to fill the role of teachers when classes are not being held in person.

Last week, Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced the winter break for Kindergarten to Grade 12 students will be extended and students and teachers will not return to in-person learning until Jan. 10. January diploma exams for high school students were also cancelled.

The province intends to distribute 8.6 million rapid tests to schools and 16.5 medical-grade masks.

Alberta Education said it will release a further update on whether students will learn in class or return to online learning at the end of this week.

Swanson believes the province needs to look at schools and the situations in the area individually and not impose a blanket policy for all schools.

The situation is different in large urban areas, she believes.

“When Alberta Education is looking at schools they need to take a regional approach. If your school has 70 students, what is the risk factor compared to a Calgary school that has 3,000 students.

“Those big city centres have the internet access and they have the higher degree of danger. Little places don’t have the internet and we have a much lower degree of danger.”

Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling said the government made the right move to delay a return to classes.

However, teachers want to know what Alberta Education plans to do to make it safer — such as improving air filtration— for students, teachers and other staff to return to school.

The association is also looking for more information about what metrics Alberta Education will use when determining whether teaching must go online.

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