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Ontario schools boards and the government are increasing online learning resources for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Mickey Conlon

Ontario schools ramp up online learning

  • April 1, 2020

With Ontario schools officially shuttered until at least the start of May, education partners are ramping up plans to continue teaching students at home.

Current plans call for teachers to return to schools on May 1 and students to follow May 4. This will be re-evaluated by the provincial government based upon advice from public health officials. 

Schools across Ontario and the rest of Canada have been closed for several weeks and the first indications were that they would reopen April 6. But governments have long said that won’t be the case, and Alberta has even taken the measure of laying off 20,000 support staff in the education system. There have even been musings that schools may not reopen again until the new school year in September.

Meantime, school boards, teachers and education ministries have been working together to ensure students stay on top of their studies. In Ontario, when it was first announced schools would be closed, the Ministry of Education set up an online portal providing access to a wide variety of educational resources — for parents, teachers and school boards — for students from Kindergarten through Grade 12. School boards also have their own resources for student use, including faith-based resources in Catholic schools.

But with schools not reopening as previously scheduled, boards like the Toronto Catholic District School Board are preparing for the second phase of learning at home, said Shazia Vlahos, the board’s director of communications.

“The TCDSB will be providing further support for Phase 2, which will focus on distance learning,” said Vlahos. “We continue with efforts to make sure that all students are able to participate in learning at home and are collaborating with a number of educational partners to understand the technology and access needs of our students.”

That included a survey sent out in late March to teachers and students to get an understanding of technology-related needs, she said.

Curriculum-linked resources are available on board websites, with additional literacy and math resources available on the Ministry of Education site. Teachers are expected to be available beginning April 6 as well.

“Starting as early as next week, teachers will be engaging in distance learning with their students and providing assessment and feedback on assignments,” said a statement posted to the TCDSB website March 31. 

Boards are sharing updates with parents and other stakeholders online as details become available.

It’s an unprecedented situation that students, parents and staff find themselves in, said Beverley Eckensweiler, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association. Boards have been working closely with government and health officials to keep students and their families safe.

“OCSTA is working closely with the Minister of Education, government staff and partners in education to identify timely and appropriate solutions and strategies to support students and families during these challenging times,” she said.

Matters could have been complicated by ongoing labour wars, but foes who have been in battle over new contracts have set their differences aside for the time being. The province has been in negotiations with the four teachers’ unions across the province and has only come to tentative agreement with three unions, including English Catholic teachers, who were scheduled to vote on ratifying the deal April 6-7. But OECTA, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, has reached out to the Ministry of Education “to offer our support and expertise, and we are now involved in a formal work group to develop plans for student learning” in the face of school closures being extended, said OECTA president Liz Stuart.

“Our hope is that we can come up with a consistent, equitable, province-wide approach that will work for all students, families and teachers,” said Stuart. “In the meantime, many teachers are taking advantage of professional development opportunities being offered by OECTA and other organizations.”

For the latest updates, see your local school board’s website or your province’s education ministry.

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