TORONTO — Just five per cent of students on average per high school in Ontario are currently enrolled in online courses, and some have trouble learning so independently, says a report released Monday.
The People for Education report on technology in schools comes shortly after the provincial government announced that all high school students will have to take four e-learning credits — out of the 30 credits needed for a diploma — starting in 2020-21.
The education advocacy group’s survey found that at least some students are enrolled in e-learning in 87 per cent of schools, though in those schools, only about five per cent of students are taking those courses.
“For us, that huge gap to go from five per cent of students to 100 per cent of students in two years is a pretty daunting task, so the first question is: what is the educational purpose of this and if there is an educational purpose, what are we doing to make sure that’s supported?” said Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education.
Online skills are important in this age of technology, but making this move won’t be simple, she said.
“(Principals) also report that students are keen to sign up for e-learning courses, but at times struggle with the self-discipline these courses require,” the report said. “While it is useful to expose all students to online learning, research has shown that the lowest achieving students consistently perform worse in online courses than in face-to-face classes.”
Education Minister Lisa Thompson has trumpeted the move to e-learning, saying teachers and parents are excited about her plan.
“Do you know there are school boards across this province that lead by example, and their students are embracing online learning?” she said in the legislature. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s rural Ontario, northern Ontario or urban Ontario; teachers and boards are leading the way.”
Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board, which has schools in both suburban and rural areas, wrote to the minister recently with concerns about the education changes. Board chair Shannon Binder expressed concerns over increasing class sizes, but also online classes.
“While we already offer e-learning courses, we know that in many areas of our school board students are unable to access reliable internet service and/or transportation to an accessible location,” she wrote. “The e-learning environment is not appropriate for all students.”
The Peel District School Board also urged Thompson to consult on the idea and reconsider it.
“The board is concerned that students who live in poverty may not have the devices and/or technology necessary to access e-learning,” chair Stan Cameron wrote. “Will the ministry offer supports that ensure these students and families who are marginalized are able to fully participate in e-learning in a manner that is equitable and inclusive?”
The government is expanding broadband, to try to ensure all students have access to reliable and fast internet at school by 2021-22.
Ontario’s auditor general has found that students don’t have equal access to technology such as tablets or laptops, and principals reported to the People for Education survey that technology is often purchased through school fundraising.
The report found that 68 per cent of elementary schools and 22 per cent of secondary schools fundraise for technology, but it is more challenging in low-income neighbourhoods. About 85 per cent of elementary schools in high-income neighbourhoods fundraise for technology, compared to 54 per cent in low-income neighbourhoods, the report said.
People for Education received 1,254 responses from elementary and secondary schools in 70 of the 72 publicly funded school boards.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press