As nervous as many higher education students in Quebec are about returning to class during a pandemic, many told Global News that pure distance-learning won’t be sustainable for much longer.
Concordia Student Union (CSU) General Coordinator Isaiah Tyrrel-Joyner said that learning via a screen has left many feeling disconnected from the community of their school, “especially, let’s say, for first years, who have never even experienced the campus.”
Moves to resume in-person learning have been welcomed by many students, then, but cautiously.
Most of Montreal’s universities and CÉGEPs are still in the planning phases of returning to class in any large-scale way.
“We’re at the beginning stages,” Tyrrel-Joyner said. “It won’t be happening anytime soon en masse.”
And while many have confidence in the baby steps being taken by their respective institutions, they say it’s going to take more involvement to make in-person classes a success.
“In terms of the administration, I will say that I do believe they’re prepared, logistically,” Brooklyn Frizzle, vice-president of university affairs with the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), said in an interview.
“I think the real concern is going to be the shift in attitude of students and staff. Because I think at this point in the semester we’ve all settled into the idea that ‘this is our semester, it’s going to be all online.’”
McGill University confirmed to Global News in a statement that “certain in-person academic activities” have resumed on-campus since February 8. Those activities are not compulsory, but rather, “optional, in-person activities that complement students’ learning, and give those in the Montreal area the opportunity to engage face-to-face with their instructors.”
That last point is important to Frizzle, who says the SSMU’s primary point of concern about returning to in-person activity has been the impact such a change mid-semester would have on teaching assistants and international students, who have had no reason to be in Montreal for much of the past year.
“Our top priority was making sure that no one is going to be called back to Montreal last-minute, nobody is going to have to take a flight when that isn’t necessary,” they said. “And we have been assured that it’s all going to be optional this semester.”
After the current semester ends, however, Frizzle says it’s much less clear what direction the university plans to go with in-person learning.
Institutions that take a less-active approach to resuming in-person learning may be able to expect a brisk response from Quebec City, if a statement from the province’s higher education ministry is to be believed.
Government spokesperson Nadia Talbot said that while there are logistical challenges associated with returning to in-person instruction, “institutions were given 2 weeks to comply with the new measures.”
“We are aware that it can be a headache for them to adapt to the evolution of measures, and we will continue to support them so that the students’ presence in class is effective as quickly as possible. The mental health of our young people is at stake.”
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