The province has mandated high school students must start taking online courses in 2020 but local e-learning results in Grey-Bruce haven’t been encouraging, Bluewater’s high school teachers’ union and the board both agree.Bluewater District School Board currently offers 12 online courses, taught by Bluewater teachers, in response to interest from students and teachers, teachers’ union bargaining president Betty-Jo Raddin said.It allows smaller schools with limited course selection the chance to offer more courses, she said.In the 2017-18 school year, 187 Bluewater high school students enrolled in an e-learning course, 77 passed, 10 failed and 100 dropped the course.The figures were obtained by Raddin, the bargaining president for District 7 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.“It has not turned out so well,” she said in an interview before a community forum Tuesday night, organized by OSSTF to show “how cuts to education will affect students and schools in rural Ontario,” the event poster said.Beyhan Farhadi, an e-learning researcher and doctoral candidate from the University of Toronto, joined other panellists at the event held at Bruce County Museum. About 50 people attended the roughly 90-minute meeting.Education Minister Lisa Thompson declined her invitation to the event, citing that the legislature is sitting, Raddin said. The local MPP for Huron-Bruce said in a statement that organizers didn’t check her availability before setting the meeting.Thompson also said she looks forward to hearing comments and suggestions from the meeting.“We are not going to implement anything and finalize our plan until this most recent consultation period draws to an end on May 31,” she said in an interview in April.An OSSTF handout urged people to e-mail, EDULABFINANCE@ontario.ca for feedback on class sizes until May 31. OSSTF’s www.hereforstudents.ca, has a button to email MPPs and background on the government’s education policy impacts.Farhadi called e-learning “a terrible idea because it is a response to a crisis that is manufactured by the province,” namely larger classes, resulting in fewer teachers and fewer locally-taught courses.Among the Conservative government’s education changes, from back-to-basics math to a lightly revamped sexual education program, is the phased-in requirement that students take an online course starting in 2020 and graduate with four online credits.Also it’s increasing permitted average class size for Grades 4 to 8 by almost one student, to 24.5, and Grades 9 to 12 will increase by 6, to 28 students, on average. But averages would include some classes which much higher numbers.Farhadi said rural communities “will be hit the hardest” by increasing class size and the resulting increasing dependence on e-learning.While it makes courses accessible, students don’t do as well or get as much out of them as they would were they in a well-funded classroom, with a teacher and other supports, she said.Farhadi said some boards have the teacher live-stream a course, which is then available afterwards for students to view when convenient. Few watch the live streams, she said. Mostly, e-learning teachers respond to students by e-mail.“I am certain there’s going to be higher rates of failures, higher rates of students who are dropping out. I’m certain of it,” said Farhadi, who anticipates the government will then blame the students for not working hard enough.Her research found students who do well with e-learning tend to come from better-resourced schools, in more affluent areas.And while just four of 32 credits must be taken by e-learning, she argues poor performance in them in Grades 9 and 10 will impair student ability to succeed in the rest of their courses because poor results sap motivation, Farhadi said.“If you don’t reach 16 credits by the time you’re 16, the likelihood of falling behind and turning at-risk is significantly higher.”
KDSS teacher Jonathon Farrell, at an education forum at Bruce County Museum, in Southampton Tuesday night. He raised concerns about the future of French Immersion at his school in the wake of Conservative education plans. Education Minister Lisa Thompson, the local MPP, could not attend but her picture and name were placed on a chair with the rest of the panel by teachers’ union organizers. (Scott Dunn/The Sun Times/Postmedia Network)
Kincardine District Secondary School teacher Jonathon Farrell, another panellist, noted he got a lay-off notice and worried about the fate of French Immersion given there’s one other French teacher in the school – who primarily teaches art.A decision may have to be taken whether to only have art or French next year, he said.Bigger classes of students, with possibly a mix of Grades 9/10/11 and 12 in one class, would be “just a nightmare.”And if French Immersion (one among other specialty programs he worries could be vulnerable) were moved online, it would be “dead on arrival” due to lack of engagement with the French teacher in an online environment.“So I feel that our voices in the smaller school boards and in the smaller schools, are the most important voices to be heard in this – because it is our schools that will lose the most if these things come through,” Farrell said.“So I’m very glad that our MPP has the most power of any of the MPPs to make some changes and to really help us to protect the education of our students.” Some in the audience, which appeared largely to consist of teachers, laughed.Raddin said in the interview that last year, the board only offered summer school courses by e-learning– but teachers were present in the school to answer questions.“And this year the board is moving away from that. Grade 9 and 10 will all be with a teacher. Gr. 11 and 12, some will be offered with a teacher and some will be offered with e-learning.”Raddin said there’s a “significant amount” of course material available through an e-learning consortium used in other areas. It offers academic subjects including English, physics and calculus but also music and phys ed.She said the low success of e-learning in Bluewater is due to low motivation in the absence of having fellow students in class with teachers and the lack of structure of having to be in class and on time every day.“Students struggle with it,” she said. “It works for some people but I think you need to be highly motivated.”E-learning students often obtain help from other teachers in the school, not the teacher of the online course, Raddin said.
Betty-Jo Raddin, the bargaining president for District 7 of the Ontario Secondary School TeachersÕ Federation, after a forum which raise alarm over provincial proposals requiring e-learning and larger classes, on Tuesday, May 28, 2019 at Bruce County Museum in Southampton, Ont. Scott Dunn/The Owen Sound Sun Times/Postmedia Network
Scott Dunn /
Scott Dunn/Sun Times
Bluewater District School Board spokesman Jamie Pettit said in an email that there’s a “low completion rate” for independent learning courses among students province-wide too. But he stressed Bluewater’s blend of technology and access to teachers.Limited access to high-speed Internet and concern about how e-learning will impact students with special needs are two board concerns, Pettit said. “It is important to consider that not all students would easily adapt to e-learning without the guidance and expertise of local teaching staff.”The board sent a letter to the education minister and others on April 12 in which it raised concerns about many of the Ford government’s education proposals.Board chair Jan Johnstone has said if the changes go through there will be a reduction of 40 to 50 full-time equivalent teaching staff positions within the board, which would be equivalent to closing two of the board’s nine secondary schools.