MONTREAL -- Quebec's CEGEPs are struggling to get ready to go online-only by Monday, according to union leaders.

Some CEGEPs will be ready Monday, but not all, acknowledged the Federation of CEGEPs, which brings together the 48 public colleges of Quebec.

The vast majority won’t be, said Yves de Repentigny, the union representative of the National Federation of Teachers of Quebec (FNEEQ), affiliated with the Confederation des syndicats nationaux (CSN). The union represents teachers of 45 institutions of the college network.

Some are in a hurry to start teaching again, but others admit that going 'back to school' will be more realistic on Apr. 6 or even Apr. 14, he said.

“There will be a gradual resumption of training activities” said Philippe Clement, president of the Quebec Federation of Collegiate Students (FECQ). Not all of them will start next week, he said.

Educational institutions in Quebec were closed on Mar. 13 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Quebec is counting on using online education so CEGEP and university students can finish the semester. 

Some students object to the plan as a whole, regardless of start-date and are asking for schools to cancel the semester and for courses be considered successfully completed, without issuing a final grade. 

By Saturday morning, more than 110,000 Quebec CEGEP and university students signed an online petition in support of the cancellation of the winter semester.

Students from the CEGEP de l'Outaouais are complaining that professors have been asking for work for the past two weeks, as if nothing had happened. These CEGEP students are opposed to submitting the same amount of school work in the usual time frame.

They also question how disadvantaged students, who do not have computers, can pursue their studies. 

Technical difficulties

The Federation des cegeps said that it is more challenging to find solutions for technical programs. There are more than 100 that require laboratories and specialized equipment for teaching.

Professors have not yet been able to recover their computers and teaching materials, which are in the now-locked CEGEPs. This is also the case for students who need their books to study.

De Repentigny said some professors are dealing with technical difficulties due to the need to transfer all their courses online and using videoconferencing systems with which they aren’t familiar.

Many teachers and students are also parents, making it even for more challenging to study or teach when they must take care of their children, said Clement.

In the ministerial note sent to CEGEP directorates on Thursday, institutions were asked to provide a protocol to allow teachers to access campuses to collect what they need.

How to proceed 

Although online education has been mentioned most often publicly by the government, using interactive platforms, such as Zoom, other alternatives may be used.

Some work can be sent by mail to students, said Judith Laurier, director of communications of the Federation des cegeps.

Internships can also be converted into case studies, said Clement.

Cancelling the semester 

“The solution may seem attractive, but not all (satisfactory skill levels) will be reached, '' said de Repentigny, giving technical training in health as an example. Graduating nurses, for example, who have not had some practical training, could be worrisome.

The union is asking the government for flexibility and not to impose a wall-to-wall solution on CEGEPs.

“The teachers want to make 'their war effort', but the government cannot remove all the obstacles they encounter,” said de Repentigny.

The CEGEP Federation does not want to cancel the semester either. There are 50,000 students in the network, said Laurier, and many are waiting to graduate to work or be admitted to university. They want to finish the semester, even if it will be harder.

The president of the Quebec Federation of Collegiate Students asked students to stay calm. He said he understands that some students are really worried, even anxious, but stresses that the whole situation is evolving rapidly and that certain solutions are being put forward.

He said he is also satisfied with certain measures proposed by the Education Ministry, including the possibility of students dropping a course without failure or penalty. The note 'incomplete' will be indicated in the bulletin and not 'failure.'

“This will not harm the R-score,” said Laurier who also welcomed this proposal. 

While this measure may relieve some students, it “should not be the only solution” offered, said Clement.

The ‘R score,’ which is used for university admissions, will also be adapted.

The department proposed two calculation formulas, one of which does not take into account the current winter session at all. Instead, it will consider the most advantageous calculation for each student, said Clement.

The FECQ does not believe that ending the semester immediately is the right solution. It worries that doing so will create even more inequity among college students.

"Nobody should be left behind," said Clement.

It also asks the government to provide CEGEP students with additional financial assistance, as well as psychological support.

The ministry appears to have heard their demands. 

In a recent note sent to CEGEP directorates, colleges are asked to "mobilize all the members of their staff so that they can participate in providing the necessary psychological and educational support for students."

This article by the Canadian Press was first published on Mar. 28, 2020.