The best laid plans…and all that.

Try to remember the start of this pandemic. I know it feels like a lifetime ago, but really try to remember the start. The uncertainty and the sudden shift thrust upon our lives. From workplace to social structures. Especially our education system. Literally overnight, our school system went from a safe and reliable place to send our children to become better citizens, into incubators of this dreaded disease.

Many were optimistic that technology could help us through this uncertainty. Shifting to a new online distance learning could save the day. Possibly opening up new horizons in the ways our children are educated. However, three months into this grand experiment a new reality is setting in. The experience of online learning is leaving much to be desired. I’ve yet to hear from any parents or teachers who are entirely satisfied with the status quo.

Which is why Ontario education minister Stephen Lecce’s press release late Friday afternoon comes across as short sighted. You can read more about it here. I can’t speak to the policy or any contracts that may have been signed between boards and technology providers. However I can speak as a father of a grade 2 student and our experiences working with the system.

To summarize, it doesn’t work. Then again it was never supposed to be designed to work this way and on this scale. Especially at an elementary level. If anything from what I can see, the technology as a whole is merely there to complement in class learning. A way to better facilitate learning and follow up of queries between teacher and student. This technology works best at the higher grade levels. It is incumbent on the user to have the work ethic and knowledge to really maximize the use of it. And we need to keep in mind the user are students of varying maturity levels and experiences with technology.

Which brings me to my next observation on online learning. I cannot foresee a scenario where parents are not deeply involved. For my household, it involves a lot of motivating and encouraging to do the work. It also involves a lot of clarification and follow up to ensure that the task is being completed correctly or that the lesson is being learned. This cannot be done by letting a grade 2 student to sit in front of a screen and absorb the lesson of the day. The result is that parents by default must become in house teachers for their children. It’s understandable that with that in mind, combined with their own work from home demands, parents are opting out. The demands are just too high in some cases.

The argument then Minister Lecce is making is for teachers to step up with ‘synchronized learning’. Providing online video sessions with all their students to explain the lesson daily. This is unrealistic for any number of reasons. The first of which is that technology in a home isn’t always a luxury to be exploited. Not all children have the same access to computers or tablets, especially when competing for the same technology amongst siblings or even their parents.

Another factor to take in to account is that the teachers themselves are first and foremost parents themselves. While we as parents are home struggling with life in a pandemic, trying to work from home, as well as providing assistance to our kids in their education, our teachers are right there with us. Their kids are working through the same issues as ours and they have to be parents just like we do. It’s unfair in my opinion to lay to solution to fixing a problem that no one saw coming at the feet of a group of parents trying to do the best they can. Just like the rest of us.

So what is the solution? I don’t have one. I do know this, the provincial government was forced with the unenviable task of trying to recreate the classroom experience online. Teachers have been trying to embrace this new technology. Trying to be creative in their implementation and fill in the gaps as best they can. The end result has been frustrating for all. Teachers, politicians, students and parents, no one is satisfied with the way online learning has worked out.

I believe it’s because classroom and online learning are two very distinct experiences. The fact is inescapable though. We will need online learning indefinitely as long as COVID-19 remains a threat. It is very plausible that future shutdowns of our schools are in order as flare ups emerge. The summer is around the corner, and it appears that we won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Perhaps, the Ministry of Education and their technology partners should take it upon itself to review the feed back it is receiving from students, parents and teachers and work to build a new online experience that we can use going forward. There is an opportunity here to create something really innovative and amazing for generations to come. We just need to seize it.

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