Online classes: I wish I had that chance - Denny Scott editorial
For the past month and a bit, I’ve been mostly working from home while trying to keep my daughter focused on her online Junior Kindergarten classes and related school work, which is no small feat. The whole time, I think back to when the province was proposing online learning for students and I’ve got to say: I still think it’s a great idea.
Sure, it’s a hard pass on having students in Kindergarten (or Grades 1 through 6, in my opinion) participate online when it’s not absolutely necessary, but I think the proposal for online learning, which was floated by Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, wasn’t necessarily a bad one.
Don’t get me wrong: the fact that the next two weeks (and maybe the rest of the school year) will be online isn’t a good thing. As a matter of fact, it’s a huge pain to have to try and do my job while taking on some of the responsibilities of an Educational Assistant. That said, I think the takeaway here is that online learning isn’t just possible, it’s something that we need to teach because it enforces ideals like self-regulation and increased responsibility.
I’ve been out of school for over a decade now and I had to take an online course or three in order to graduate from university:
It was a requirement to take online courses to get my degrees. Why does that matter? Well it was a totally new experience for me. As someone who constantly saw the words “needs to focus more” on his elementary report cards, I found it difficult to keep up with the classes.
Here’s the thing: in university or college (or even trades programs, which have had to move to some online programs recently), you pay for your classes, so failure is really not an option unless you have a big pile of money to burn. I took online courses in my first year at university and those classes were likely the most difficult for me, and the ones that resulted in the lowest grades, when compared to even my senior, in-person classes.
Would it have benefited me to try online learning before then? Definitely.
Maybe I’m wrong and online courses should be limited to high school but, here’s the thing: grades in high school matter.
Ask anyone who missed their first-choice post-secondary program due to a deficit of a mark or two: high school grades can have a dramatic effect on post-secondary education and the rest of your life. So if we’re going to throw students into the deep end of online schooling, it shouldn’t be when they’re in post-secondary or even secondary education, but in the latter years of their primary education experience, when they can afford to make mistakes.
That’s why, as much of a pain it has been to try and get my four-year-old to pay attention in class, I’m glad she is having the experience. Sure, she will need a refresher course when she gets a little older, but she is learning not only how to participate in an online class, but also how she still needs to complete the work even if a teacher isn’t looking over her shoulder.
While I’m certainly not endorsing the entirety of the education reforms that Ford, then-Education Minister and Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson and the provincial Conservative government suggested, I think the stalwart opposition to online learning was misplaced.
Cast your mind back several years, before we had ever heard of COVID-19 and the worst pandemic we had ever faced was SARS; would it not have been great for students to have some online learning experience then to prepare them for this year, where (by the end of the year) they will have spent nearly as much time in front of a digital class as they have in a classroom?
Just as the online classes might have prepared older students for the realities of schooling during a COVID-19 lockdown, it would also prepare them for required online classes later in life.
Heck, even without required online learning in post-secondary, the fact that some post-secondary locations are facing budget crunches may lead to some classes only being available online due to limited enrollment.
So aside from the obvious point of “exposing students to online learning is a good thing”, the bigger message here is don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. While some of the provincial government’s education reforms were contentious and downright stupid, the fact that unions or teachers are against something doesn’t immediately mean it’s bad, just that it’s not what they want.