Province announces provincial plan for distance learning

By Kirk Winter

Few were surprised today when Premier Doug Ford announced that public schools in Ontario will be closed until at least May 4, 2020.

At a press conference featuring the premier and Minister of Education, Steven Lecce, parents were provided with information about what distance learning is going to look like.

Ford and Lecce also shared whether COVID-19 will create problems for their high school aged children graduating this June and finding placements at post-secondary institutions somewhere in Ontario.

Ford delivered the following message before turning the meeting over to the education minister, “As I’ve told you before, the situation continues to change day by day and hour by hour. In order to protect our children I am prepared to extend closures even further if we have to.”

Lecce then took over and proceeded to lay out the structure that the “Learn at Home” program will be taking for at least the next 30 days. Lecce promised that, “students would be well equipped during this significant time away from the classroom.”

Lecce shared that “Learning At Home” will be split into four different streams encompassing K-3, Grades 4-6, 7-8 and Grades 9-12.

Lecce gave a thumbnail sketch of what students will be required to do at each stream:

K-3 – five hours a week focusing on literacy and math

4-6 – Five hours a week focusing on literacy, math, science and social studies

7-8 – 10 hours a week focusing on math, literacy, science and social studies

9-12 – 3 hours of work per course per week in a semestered school with focus on credits/completion/graduation

Lecce added that, “no student will have their graduation compromised or face barriers to accessing post -secondary school.”

Lecce than went on to explain how the programs will be delivered suggesting, “Teachers will be using phones, video conferencing and email to keep in touch with students while delivering portions of the curriculum. I hope this will provide a sense of stability and hope during this time away from school.”

Lecce ended his presentation by promising that local boards will be distributing laptops and/or devices as needed.

Reporters present asked the premier about the decision to push the April 6 reopening date to May 4, and Ford responded that the April date was “simply not realistic.”

The Toronto District School Board and the Peel District School Board announced that they will be rolling out programming starting April 6. Locally there is an expectation that Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) will follow suit and also commence distance learning this coming Monday.

Virtual staff meetings have been occurring at various TLDSB school sites over the last 48 hours, and some teachers have already started to reach out to their students. Requests for comments on this article from teachers unions and the board went unanswered.

Questions that remain unanswered include:

  • With social distancing occurring how do students pick up laptops from school sites?
  • With schools closed and social distancing in place how do students access desks and lockers to retrieve notebooks, textbooks and other supplies which will be crucial for student success, particularly in the Grade 7-12 streams?
  • With public libraries and coffee shops closed, where do disadvantaged students access Wi-Fi to benefit from e-learning?
  • What programming will be available for special education and special needs students?
  • The College of Teachers counsels teachers not to contact their students by phone or personal email. However, the minister has suggested that phone contact is about to become an accepted norm for teacher-student communication. How will this be reconciled?

–More to come.

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