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More online lessons next year: controversy erupts

Distance learning is here to stay another year or maybe more. Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s announcement that online teaching will be an option in all Ontario schools from September was not welcomed.

Teachers’ unions and parents in the first place are expressing great concern about the decision which could be the beginning of a permanent change with serious implications for students and workers. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) fears that the change will divert funds from face-to-face learning to virtual learning and weaken the public education system. “At a time when the top educational priority should be to ensure schools across Ontario remain safely open for face-to-face learning, Premier Doug Ford’s government is planning to make virtual learning permanent,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond.

Although psychologists, pediatricians and children’s development experts have been stressing for months the importance of in-presence learning that contributes to the training, growth and mental well-being of children, distance learning still finds its place in the future of the Ford government school.

Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSTF), says online learning has widened inequalities among students, either. “All we have to do is ask why a government that claims to be committed to equity chooses to promote an educational model that creates unfair learning conditions for students,” he said.

But while the unions are putting in evidence a long list of negative factors related to distance learning, the Ford government continues on its way, and in addition to informing parents that for the next school year it will be possible to choose whether to send their children to school or have them attend classes virtually from home, winks at the possibility of continuing with this option in the years to come. A lifelong online learning plan first raised issues in March, when the government shared a draft outlining several options, including synchronous remote learning and an independent online model for secondary school students run by TVO and TFO. “Meanwhile, the announcement will help parents and students prepare for the 2021-2022 school year and give the school boards time to plan all contingencies – said Lecce – the chief medical officer of health will continue to analyze information, data and anything else and give his advice to the government”.

A spokeswoman for Lecce did not comment on any permanent plans for online learning, but said the government wants children to attend schools.” Parents deserve a choice next September, as we continue to address uncertainty as a result of this global pandemic,” Caitlin clark said.

Distance learning aside, there are many questions that remain unanswered: it is not at all clear the government’s move to allocate 2 billion dollars to the school boards to improve programs and costs related to the functioning of schools. Distance learning remains one of the points of friction between teachers and parents on the one hand and the Ford government on the other: it took the Covid pandemic to open the way to this form of study. Now the government is sending worrying signals that distance learning could remain in schools permanently.

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