The province is creating a new Crown corporation to offer students from kindergarten to Grade 12 the option to study online, but STF president Samantha Becotte says the government is moving too fast to create such a complex system.
“This is an extremely complex process, and if the goal is to ensure a consistent, high-quality education for all students accessing online classes, it needs to be done right the first time,” Becotte said.
“At this time, government doesn’t even have a distance learning policy in place outlining where they are going and where they eventually want to be. Many students from all over Saskatchewan can benefit significantly from a well-run, well-funded and closely monitored online public education system that offers quality instruction from certified Saskatchewan teachers.
The STF said in a release that there were many questions that needed to be answered regarding this project:
- Whether a Crown corporation is the best structure to deliver online public education and whether it is fiscally responsible.
- When the provincial distance education policy will be finalized and if education sector partners will be consulted in its development.
- Required legislative and regulatory changes.
- Details regarding the governance structure of the new Crown.
- What adjustments must be made to structures currently in place for funding, staffing, contracts, roles of principals and capital requirements.
- How connections will be maintained between local teachers and their nearby schools.
- Details regarding the IT capacity required to build, distribute and train users of a new centralized online education platform.
- Potential screening criteria to ensure prospective students have the time-management skills needed to benefit from online course instruction.
- How technological barriers, including computers and reliable internet access, will be removed to provide equitable access to all Saskatchewan students.
- Confirmation that a plan will be developed to address possible negative consequences for students, such as increased screen time, reduced physical activity and mental health.
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“It has been over a month since government announced their plan to centralize distance education, and there are still more questions than answers about how this is going to be actualized. We are ready and willing to be a part of this work,” Becotte said.
The government of Saskatchewan made the announcement on Oct. 6, noting that the service will be available to all Saskatchewan students.
“Our government firmly believes that the best place for students is in a classroom, however in the event where students are in need of online learning we want to ensure that all students will have access to high quality education regardless of where they are living,” Education Minister Dustin Duncan said in a release.
“We are pleased to enhance their experience through consistency, accessibility and choice, and to best meet whatever their personal learning needs may be.”
The province noted in the release that separate school divisions and qualified independent schools can apply to the ministry to offer online learning, adding that “this application process will ensure they follow a provincial quality assurance framework.”
A funding model and a platform provider haven’t been announced yet, but the ministry said registration for students was anticipated to begin this winter.
Global News has reached out to the Ministry of Education for comment and received the following statement.
“The Government of Saskatchewan first announced its plans for a new online learning policy in the province in the 2021 Throne Speech. The Ministry of Education has been consulting with school divisions and other stakeholders since that time as part of the preliminary planning process in developing a new online learning model,” read the statement.
The statement said this model will give students more choices while maintaining an education standard.
“The government is committed to ensuring there is a seamless transition to the new model and has intentions to meet with remaining school divisions as well as with our other sector partners as this initiative progresses, to discuss implementation plans including considerations around staffing, technology and funding,” the statement read.
“Funding for the new online school is being provided by the Government of Saskatchewan and will be determined in the coming weeks. Work is also continuing to determine a staffing and funding model and select a platform provider and more information on this will be announced once available.”