Ontario’s plan for e-learning gives teens a chance to “put their best foot forward,” Education Minister Lisa Thompson said in response to opposition accusations the Ford government is moving classes online to cut the number of teachers in the province.
Asked Monday in the legislature about the move to four mandatory credits in high school before teens can graduate — which will be implemented starting in 2020 — Thompson said “the reality of today is we need to be embracing technology for good.”
And, she added, “when it comes to online opportunities for our students, I think we should all agree … we want to make sure that they have every opportunity to put their best foot forward.”
The government has yet to work out details about the mandatory e-learning it announced during the March Break, other than it will expect teens to earn one such credit a year, with an average class size of 35.
Requiring four online courses for graduation would be a first in North America — a handful of American states require just one — and is consulting on the coming change and how to best implement it.
Stiles also said “this is not about 21st century learning, this is not about technology; this is about making students take courses online that are now mandatory. This is about removing 10,000 teachers from our classrooms.”
Thompson, however, said Ontario is “already leading the way … online courses are already happening. Again, what is wrong with making sure that our students, at minimum, once a year, embrace technology for good? Having so many opportunities that the internet provides, we are going to continue to push the bar.”
However, student leaders have already asked the province to back off on making such credits necessary for graduation.
“Although e-learning classes provide a modernized learning experience for students, these courses are not a good fit for everyone,” Amal Qayum, president of the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association, has said.
The association, in a 2017 survey, found that three-quarters of teens felt online learning was lacking compared to in-person classes.
Critics have questioned the rapid push to e-learning, especially at a time when the government is boosting average class sizes with an estimated loss of 10,000 teaching positions over the next four years.
Experts say online learning “is a good idea” if done well, but also questioned making them mandatory.
Students with special needs can be exempt.
Meanwhile, the Peel District School Board is now estimating it will lose about 500 high school teaching positions in total over four years as the government boosts the average secondary class from 22 to 28 students.
Because those are averages, class sizes can grow larger — well into the 30s — to offset smaller, specialized classes.
The province has said it will provide transitional funding so that no teachers are laid off, and that the cuts are achieved through attrition.
The Toronto District School Board, the largest in the province, has estimated it will lose 800 teaching positions in total.
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy