School boards across the country have been planning for the next school year and many have decided to continue with online learning.
Both Edmonton public and Catholic school boards announced they will continue to offer online classrooms in the new school year.
Edmonton Public Schools said it offered a choice for the first half of the year and if a full return to in-person learning is not possible for the second half, families will once again select their preferred learning option.
The Ottawa Catholic School Board said it will aim to create three new permanent virtual schools, each with its own dedicated administration team and school name.
In total, about six per cent of its student population had decided to continue with virtual learning, compared to 25 per cent this school year.
The Ontario government is looking at making the option of remote learning permanent for all boards across the province.
Like many other Canadian parents, Yashy Murphy said she helped guide her two children during their stint of online learning.
The first time back in March 2020, when schools abruptly closed.
“It was horrible,” said Murphy. “It just did not work for us.”
The second time was this school year when her two children, in grades two and four, returned to lessons behind the screen for about a month after the winter break.
Murphy called the experience “way better” and said the teachers helped provide a schedule and daily school routine.
Still, learning and sharing space from a two-bedroom condo in Toronto, Ont., was challenging, especially for Murphy’s nine-year-old.
“She was getting to a point where she was getting angry with us,” said Murphy, “and we were just all on top of each other.
Associate professor of Social Development Studies at the University of Waterloo Kristina Llewellyn said online learning was a fit for some families, but typically those families were able to offer support from at least one parent at home and had stable access to the internet.
Llewellyn added some of those families “made incredible sacrifices to make virtual learning work for their learners because it was necessary.”
Llewellyn said schools can’t pretend in-person learning works for all students, but she said she is concerned virtual learning could come at the detriment of classroom instruction.
“My major concern is a push to virtual learning is actually going to take away the already stretched resources that already exist to make our public schools truly equitable and accessible.”
Llewellyn said if a family has considered their online experience better than in-person learning, “then we need to ask why and we really need to push for change in public education.”
She also stressed she didn’t think virtual learning should be used to help school boards alleviate overcrowded classrooms, especially in high schools.
“I don’t think it’s a good option,” said Llewellyn. “What the studies have shown is that there’s lower attendance rates for online learning and lower levels of engagement.
“There’s a lot that’s missing about the different supports that happen within a school environment. It’s not just about content delivery, there’s a lot of therapies provided in schools, there are a lot of food programs, mental health supports.”
Murphy said screen time is a concern for her, but she will let her children choose how they want to learn in the next school year.
“I’m not going to persuade them either way. It will be their decision because they know what they need and I’ll step in obviously, if there’s a health and safety decision.”