Ontario to unveil added home learning for students as schools remain closed

By Cynthia Mulligan

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce will announce new measures this week to keep students learning while classes remain suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He will also announce another extension of school closures beyond the previously set return date of April 6, which only a few days ago Premier Doug Ford confirmed was “unrealistic” and not going to happen.

Whether school will be back at all before the end of June is still in question.

As the government prepares for a lengthy suspension of school there are many complex issues it is trying to resolve; should home learning be mandatory and count for marks?   What about students with special needs?  How can home learning be equitable for the estimated 100,000 students across the province who don’t have access to the internet at home?  The government is currently discussing these concerns with school boards, Ontario’s four teachers unions, and parent groups as well as the Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education.

In a statement, Lecce said, “in partnership with school boards and educators, our aim is to ensure every child – irrespective of ability, geography or socio-economic circumstance – can learn safely while at home.”

He added he has been speaking with parents who have children with special education needs about the “heightened challenges” they face during the pandemic.

The government’s launched its “Learn at Home” website on March 20.

It is not mandatory and does not count for marks.

Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) president Harvey Bischof said he has been working with the government to try to find ways to enhance and extend the home learning tool.

“One of the things we’ve been emphasizing and we believe heard by the minister is there is a vast spectrum of ability and access during this time,” he said, adding that it complicates trying to put something together on the fly.

Bischof said it is critical to plan for when students finally go back to school so that they can catch up.

He warns that “despite our best efforts gaps are going to rise based on students’ access.”

Many university professors have set up online classes for their students. When asked if that was a possibility, Bischof said it is possible but what will be required are “multiple options” for learning so as many students as possible have access.

Yesterday Alberta announced it is redirecting approximately $128 million from school funding to its COVID-19 response while schools are closed, which is expected to lead to the layoffs of thousands of substitute teachers and education assistants.

A spokesperson for the education minister said Sunday there are no plans to do that in Ontario and a memo has been sent to school boards advising them to honour collective agreements.

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