The Ford government needs to press pause on plans to permanently expand online education

Posted on April 14, 2021 in Education Delivery System

Source: — Authors:

One of Ontario’s “unique strengths” in the COVID crisis has been its online education system. At least that’s how the government sees it.

Students, parents and teachers who have suffered through online schooling, and will now be getting even more of it thanks to the province’s inability to control the raging third wave, could be forgiven for choosing far less flattering words.

Every government seeks to paint the brightest picture possible on all its policies and services so it’s hardly a surprise that there’s a disconnect between the policy-makers and those actually experiencing remote learning when it comes to assessing its quality.

What’s quite a lot harder to explain in any sort of benign way is the Ford government’s rush to expand the use of online education after the pandemic.

Ontario is looking at making full-time online learning in all grades a permanent part of the education system. The legislation to make that happen could be introduced as early as next month and the new system in place by September, according to a report recently obtained by the Star.

Such an absurdly speedy timeline for a very controversial shift in education policy can only be a deliberate attempt by the Ford government to ram this through while people are struggling with pandemic life and focused on getting vaccines for themselves and their loved ones.

Even to propose permanently expanding the use of online learning before fixing the many problems with quality and access that have been demonstrated with its use in the pandemic can only be about money. Specifically saving money, and possibly even making money by selling online courses internationally.

It should go without saying that those are the wrong reasons to expand the use of online education. But apparently with the Ford government it needs to be said — repeatedly.

Two years ago the government tried to bring in four mandatory online credits in high school before students, parents and teachers forced it to back down to two classes with an easy opt-out from even that requirement.

The pandemic, of course, has opened everyone’s eyes to just how much can be done remotely — work and education will probably never be quite the same again.

But for the vast majority of students online learning is not a better option, or even one equal to going to a bricks and mortar school with a teacher at the head of the class and surrounded by their peers.

That’s why Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce have been so keen to keep schools open throughout the pandemic. Even on Monday, the very day they finally admitted the third wave is so out of control that Ontario will not be able to reopen to in-class learning after the April break, Lecce said there’s “overwhelming evidence” that being in school is the best place for students.

That’s also why everyone from education advocacy groups to teacher unions and school board associations is deeply concerned with where the province seems intent on going and the potential for saving money that seems to be driving it.

Ontario has needed remote learning in the pandemic but it’s a long way to go from saying online education is better than no education to deciding that it’s so good it should be permanently expanded. Most especially if doing so risks destabilizing or further underfunding the school-based system that the vast majority of students will continue to need.

So let’s get through the pandemic — that’s job one. After that, the province needs to review what worked well with online learning and figure out how to address the shortcomings that were exposed through its widespread and extended use.

Only then will the government be in any kind of credible position to propose expanding its online education offerings.

Tags: , , ,

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 14th, 2021 at 10:08 am and is filed under Education Delivery System. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply