On April 27, Quebec’s Ministry of Education shared plans for reopening schools across Quebec. This plan will be progressive and will allow a gradual return to classes, first in the regions and later in metropolitan Montreal. The thinking is that a limited number of students will return to the schools, while others will stay at home and have access to remote learning and support. Elementary schools will open first and high schools will only open in the fall.
Certainly, there is a need to reopen the schools of Quebec in phases. The problem with this plan is the lack of consideration for the higher education level, especially for CEGEPs. It leaves one perplexed.
During the closure, universities and CEGEPs were called upon to put measures into place to ensure that teaching would continue. The semester has largely been delivered through online learning platforms and techniques. The basic mission was to save the semester, preserve academic integrity and ensure that our graduates meet the required competencies.
Since this began, our teachers have been working very hard with the support of their non-teaching colleagues to redefine their courses and adapt everything to distance learning.
Various accommodations were authorized by the ministry in order to respond to many issues, especially related to evaluation. All of this was done with the professional judgement of our teachers and the autonomy of the academic institutions!
Now these same teachers we have been relying upon for their professional judgement are telling us that it will not be possible to conclude certain courses, thankfully not that many, with strictly online learning. We will need a minimum physical presence to wrap up the practical learning activities, which take place in labs or workshops. This is important for these students to complete their studies and to preserve the integrity of their college diploma.
This is the first reason to allow access to the CEGEP campuses. Of course, this access would be limited and would be in strict adherence to the public health protocols.
A second reason would be that for many students, the summer semester offers them the only chance to complete admission pre-requisites for university or for another CEGEP program. A summer semester would be mostly online. However, some common pre-requisite courses, such as Chemistry, Biology and Physics, require some practical learning activities.
The summer semester is critical for maintaining the quality of our training, which ensures our students a smooth transition to their next program of studies or to the workplace. Without the possibility of a summer semester, the aspirations of thousands of students would be compromised.
A third reason has to do with the renovation projects that take place annually in our establishments. This work is mostly done during the summer when campuses are quieter. These renovation projects are related to recent program revisions. It must be understood that the revision process and the updating of programs introduces new objectives for our training, which require new learning environments and equipment, and renovations. Without the possibility of doing renovations, it would be impossible to deploy the learning activities that are proscribed by the programs.
Prudence must guide our decision-making and it is clear that prudence is the top consideration in the gradual reopening of Quebec’s schools.
A transition plan to lead us out of self-isolation and back to a gradual return to normal activities on CEGEP campuses is needed. It would help us address problems related to the completion of training and the certification of studies, while following the public health protocols and respecting as much as possible the limits on public gatherings.
A plan like this would help us fine-tune our planning for a full return to classes and activities in August under unprecedented circumstances.
This opinion piece was published by Le Devoir on April 30: