The Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) board of trustees passed a motion at their April 7 meeting calling on the Ontario government to establish a Royal Commission on the future of education.
The motion was put forward by board Chair and Trustee for Ward 4, John McAllister, in response to news from the province that they were looking into legislation that would make online learning a permanent fixture in the Ontario school system. “I’m very much against remote learning as a permanent option,” he says. “I understand it’s necessary now because we are in a pandemic emergency crisis. However, to make that as a concrete feature of our schools in the future is not good.”
Trustee for North Grenville, Lisa Swan, agrees that adding e-learning as a permanent option for students is not the way to go. She says that, overall, parents and students in her ward have been really struggling with online learning throughout the pandemic. Lack of access to appropriate broadband has been a huge issue for students, especially in North Grenville, and many students also don’t have access to the proper devices to be able to engage in online learning effectively. Lisa says the UCDSB does try to provide the technology needed for students to learn at home, as well as free high-speed internet in their school parking lots to help those with connectivity issues.
While some students do really well in an online format, Lisa still worries about lack of socialization when kids are learning in isolation. “They’re not getting feedback, they’re not building relationships with their teachers, because it’s really hard for staff to build a relationship over a computer with a classroom full of kids,” she says.
John says that remote learning doesn’t support Ontario’s most vulnerable students. “Some of them may just disappear from our learning spectrum because they’ll fall into the cracks and out of our radar reach. That’s a real concern.”
According to an article published by the Globe and Mail in March, a ministry document suggested that in the new online learning model, high school students would have the option of enrolling in a teacher-supported online course, or an independent learning course offered through a centre operated by TVO in English, and TFO in French. The document says school boards would be required to transfer a fee to either broadcasting company for operating the program.
Lisa agrees with many of the critics of this plan that this is a move towards privatizing education in Ontario. “They want to have their own e-learning platform that they are going to privatize,” she says. “I don’t think that this is beneficial to our local youth or students because what do they know of local rural Eastern Ontario? Everything’s always Toronto centric.”
According to Lisa, this possible move to permanent online learning will also have a huge impact on rural schools, many of which have already been forced to close since she became a trustee. “Rural learning is very important to me, being in schools is very important, because if they keep pushing this online learning, we’re going to be closing more rural schools.”
According to John, the Royal Commission on the future of education in Ontario will be an important step towards creating a school system that benefits students as we move into the post-COVID period. “I believe it’s time for an objective view, with recommendations based on evidence from experts and stakeholders,” he says.
John believes the Royal Commission would be able to provide the government with a roadmap to direct the future of education in Ontario which would be relevant, purposeful and meaningful. “I don’t know if we’re ever going to get back to the old normal, but whatever the new normal is, let’s plan for it and let’s do it right,” he says.