In the wake of rolling education strikes across Ontario, one of the sticking points for high school teachers is mandatory e-learning and many are saying it is not practical or suited for all students.
“A lot of students struggle with (e-learning) … they get frustrated and turned off of learning,” Grades 9 and 10 teacher Kamey Munsamy told Global News from the picket line on Tuesday.
In 2019, the Ford government put forward a plan to make e-learning mandatory for graduation. It first announced students would have to complete four courses, but months later the government reduced that requirement to two.
The Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation (OSSTF) said it is one of the sticking points in its contract negotiations deadlock with the Ontario government.
“Some kids can’t afford technology, some kids don’t have access to the broadband and some kids just can’t take on that type of learning,” said OSSTF President Harvey Bischof.
Experts on e-learning said it is a form of education where a teacher presents a course online instead of in a traditional classroom. It is done through modules and quizzes that need to be completed in order to pass. Once or twice a week, that teacher is available for live communication but it’s up to the students to attend.
“When you tell a student that it is a choice to show up, which online is, they don’t,” Beyhan Farhadi, a former teacher and a PhD graduate from the University of Toronto who has studied the effects of e-learning on Toronto students, told Global News.
She said the lack of in-person contact means teachers can’t properly assess if a student is struggling.
In Toronto, where Farhadi taught online courses, she estimated around 1,200 students sign up for e-learning each year. She said that number typically jumps to around 5,000 in the summer. But Farhadi said what isn’t being talked about is that almost 40 per cent of students during that time drop out.
“The drawback of e-learning is that the students who do well are already high achieving,” Farhadi said, explaining the model of online learning only allows that gap to grow.
Ontario Education Minister Stephan Lecce issued a statement to Global News when he was asked about e-learning and students who don’t own computers or have access to proper broadband connections.
“The fact that the critical mass, the overwhelming majority of courses are in school would strengthen that,” he said without commenting on if the government would offer devices.
“Technological fluency is a foundational skill that also needs to be harnessed in today’s disruptive economy and the trajectory of where the market is going. Job creators, not-for-profit leaders are telling us that’s a competency they want strengthened.”
Looking at the United States, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Michigan, and Virginia require the completion of an online courses for graduation. The longest-running program is in Michigan.
A recent study in Michigan revealed Grade 9 and 10 students had the lowest pass rates in online courses, which led to reports that “virtual school” is a “failed experiment.”
“Adolescents are developing the skills they need to be able to work alone. If we are equating adolescents to adults, I think we are missing the point of public education. It is not just to produce a labour force but support students in all their needs,” said Farhadi.
“I think that if we really care about students’ success, we will take from the examples that are already provided in just a handful of states in the United States that tell us that this is a failed experiment.”
Back on the picket lines, Munsamy said she is waiting for the Ford government to change its mind about e-learning and “come to an understanding of how people learn best.”
But the Ministry of Education told Global News it stands behind its e-learning commitment — a plan that would make Ontario the largest jurisdiction for online learning in North America and increase the number of e-learners in Ontario 10-fold.