David Marsden: Back-to-school plan makes sense

Albertans are wise to propose ways to improve students’ return to classrooms this fall, but the provincial government’s plan is sound.

Did anyone really think the government would allow the pandemic to scuttle classroom learning any longer than it already has?

Education is an underpinning of a prosperous, modern society, and it is essential that students are present in class so they can master the skills they’ll require as adults.

No one questions the educational advantages of being in a lively classroom as opposed to trying to tackle the curriculum at home on a computer. As much as we love technology, it is not a substitute for real-life engagement, especially in the formative years when language and numeracy are taught.

There’s deservedly a lot of talk these days about achieving a fairer society. Condemning children from low-income families to struggle on their own with dodgy internet service doesn’t advance that aim. Neither does expecting a harried parent to stand in as the teacher, regardless of the family’s financial situation or structure.

It’s worth noting that Alberta’s return-to-school protocols are similar to those being implemented across the country.

So while NDP Leader Rachel Notley dreams of capping classes at 15 students, her party members in British Columbia, who actually have to make public decisions, are largely taking the same measures as Alberta’s United Conservative government.

The benefit of being in opposition, of course, is that your suggestions don’t see the light of day. It doesn’t matter to Alberta’s NDP that thousands of teachers can’t be hired overnight and that classroom space, which is notoriously scarce, can’t be procured at the snap of a finger.

Frankly, as it’s been throughout the pandemic, the return to school is going to require the co-operation of all Albertans.

Parents must instill good habits in their youngsters, regardless of their age, and ensure they wash their hands often, keep two metres away from those who aren’t among their circle of contacts, and wear a mask when they’re in close contact with others.

The COVID-19 virus is going to be around until a vaccine is discovered. And even then, there will be fools who refuse to avail themselves of the benefits of immunization, ensuring the scourge goes on to inflict more pain.

So let’s continue to make suggestions on how to improve Alberta’s plan to welcome students back to class. In fact, the government itself will update its health measures Tuesday morning.

Let’s acknowledge there’s bound to be an increase in the incidence of the disease. The goal, after all, has always been to ensure our health-care system can respond to the pandemic, not that we’d abandon pursuits beyond our homes while we wait in fear.

There will be some parents, of course, who won’t be persuaded of the benefits of sending their children to school. Whether through wealth, a fortunate family setting, or anxiety, they will opt to school their children at home, likely through some form of online learning.

Parents are welcome to pursue other ways of providing their children with an education. That’s the beauty of Alberta’s comprehensive school system. Just don’t deny other Alberta youngsters the fulsome education they deserve.

David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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