With many parents expressing concerns with the Alberta government’s pandemic back-to-school plans — there’s been an explosion of interest in two other options: homeschooling and online learning.
Judy Arnall is the president of the Alberta Homeschooling Association. Last year, 12,000 students were home educated.
Thanks to the pandemic, she says this year the number of inquiries they’ve been fielding is unprecedented.
“Last year our Facebook group was about 1,000 members — this year we’ve grown to over 8,000 so far and I’m sure that’s going to continue,” she said.
Arnall said registration numbers aren’t released by Alberta Education until after Sept. 30. That’s the deadline before which parents must indicate their intention to homeschool their children.
If they do so, they’re eligible for supports and a financial reimbursement of up to $850 per child for educational supplies.
Arnall said parents that home educate like the flexibility.
“It takes about a tenth of the time as classroom and there’s no testing, all children can get a diploma,” she said.
She also noted that homeschooling does not have to be done by parents.
“They can outsource to online ‘a la carte’ schools, they can outsource to childcare professionals, to siblings, to tutors, freelance teachers.”
Some parents, Arnall said, are also forming smaller home learning pods where they rotate through teaching each other’s children.
And while Arnall says the Homeschooling Association is hopeful parents will choose to stick with home education once the pandemic is over, she recognizes that might not work for all families.
“If parents want to do it for one year, they can. They can put their kids in the next grade no problem. There’s no testing, there’s no getting behind,” she said.
There has been some questions, however, around what homeschooling means in terms of future budgets for public school boards.
Some administrators have been posting on social media, urging families to sign up for their school-driven online learning instead – so that funding will remain in the classrooms.
The concern comes from a change the UCP made to education funding. While it used to be allocated in accordance with enrollment as of Sept. 30 of each school year — now it takes into account the enrollment of the previous two years, as well as projected enrollment for the coming school year.
In a statement Colin Aitchison, press secretary to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, wrote: “If more parents choose home education for their children it will not affect the budgets of school boards this school year. With Alberta’s new K-12 education funding model, we informed boards of their budgets in late spring for the 2020-21 school year.”
“The funding amounts we committed to are guaranteed for this school year, and we will work with boards to mitigate any impacts that changes to home education enrollment may have on funding for future years.”
Edmonton Public School Board’s chair, Trisha Estabrooks, said she hasn’t heard from too many parents saying they’re planning to homeschool, but agrees choosing school-led online learning maintains funding.
She notes there’s flexibility for parents to change their minds with Edmonton Public as well.
Estabrooks admits there were challenges with the online learning that occurred in the spring — but says the trustees spent $5 million improving the program since.
“That was such an emergency response to a very quickly evolving situation. Whereas with this, staff had time to really develop resources,” she said.
She noted there will be assessments to ensure students are keeping up with the Alberta curriculum.
In contrast to homeschooling, online learning gives kids regular access to teachers.
“Students will have a chance to connect on a regular daily basis with teachers,” Estabrooks said.
Online learning through EPSB begin Sept. 3, the same day as in-person classes.