Trustees with the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board in Peterborough say they’re concerned over reports that the Ontario government may make remote learning a permanent part of the school curriculum across the province.
Online/virtual or remote learning reached new heights across Ontario with the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 as students have been required to stay home. There have also been options to continue virtual learning when schools have reopened.
The possibility that the option could be permanent stems from a Ministry of Education document that was initially shared with various education groups, according to a report first published by The Globe and Mail. There are also proposals to expand the mandate of TVOntario/Télévision française de l’Ontario for secondary school students.
During Tuesday’s school board meeting, trustees discussed the proposed plan and agreed it could potentially have a “damaging” impact on some of its small, rural and remote schools. The school board serves 74 elementary schools, 13 secondary schools and three adult/alternative educational learning sites in Peterborough, Peterborough County, Northumberland County and the Municipality of Clarington.
“We’ve been following these reports with real concern over the possible future plans being considered by the province, and what they could mean in a direct way for our students,” said board chair Diane Lloyd following the meeting.
“The board clearly believes this is something we need to convey to the Minister (of Education), our local MPPs, and our communities, in the hopes that we might collectively pursue a better path forward.”
Trustees say that among the “significant implications” the proposed online learning could include are:
- threatening the viability and diversity of course offerings in small, rural and remote schools
- duplicating work already being done by school boards in collective partnership
- centralizing course development that will limit school boards’ ability to address local student needs
- reducing in-school staff support for students who require additional instruction
- limiting the ability of local school boards to help students with services and supports
The board says the plan could lead to course cancellations and decreased programming choices for students if a number of them are directed toward provincially offered online courses.
Lloyd says the board will be petitioning the Minister of Education and area MPPs for reconsideration of the reported plan that will “take away the ability to address local student needs.”
“Our primary concern is that the model, as reported, would represent a loss of local decision making where currently we can tailor our course offerings to match our students’ interests and needs,” she said.
“We don’t want our students to get lost online in provincially centralized course offerings. If the goal is to provide students with more choice, school boards have been working together in a consortium for years to run E-learning courses. We can do it better already and can expand.”
“We’re hopeful that we can have a productive dialogue with the Minister and our local MPPS to work together in the best interests of students from across the province,” she added.
Last month, after the release of the provincial budget, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said a decision on online learning moving forward would be made in the coming weeks.
“I believe so strongly that keeping schools open is fundamental to their (student’s) health and to their wellness, but I also believe parents will make the best decisions for their children,” he said.
“Right now, we’re consulting with a variety of partners in education to get their perspective on how we can potentially create a system that is safe, but also provides parents the choice that I think Ontarians benefited from this past September.”
— with files from Jessica Patton
— More to come.