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Letter: Reader calls on premier to reconsider proposed distance learning model

Create a comprehensive plan that better reflects the interests of all Canadians
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Editor’s note: The following is an open letter to Premier Doug Ford regarding the distance learning model announced recently.

The government must immediately reconsider/block the “distance learning model” being proposed recently.  

First, the social interaction and collaboration that is only found in the traditional classroom is much more constructive to a learning environment, especially when dealing with younger children. Elementary children have often not yet had the opportunity to develop the self-motivating and disciplinary skills required for online learning. 

A more instructor-led environment is needed for these children. This also allows a back and forth in which questions may be asked and answered, in real time, and guidance provided. One-on-one learning is essential to the education of these children. 

To think that online learning will adequately replace that of the classroom for children of this age is naive, if not ignorant. Ask anyone who is considered a leader within their profession and/or industry. Nothing is more productive than in-person social interactions and collaboration. Online learning is not appropriate for the elementary level and pursuing it is a huge waste of our resources.

Another cause for great concern is the proposed alternating days or weeks. This will cut the amount of learning time in half. How exactly does this help Canada’s already failing educational system (evidenced by the significant growth and participation in private supplemental learning programs such as Kumon and Eye Level)?  How will the children ever meet satisfactory standards when their opportunity to learn has been cut in half? How productive would any office or business be if they were shut down 50 per cent of the time? Not well, if we look at the current economy. In addition to this failing to invest in youth, it triggers substantial economic, social, and political costs and can negatively affect GDP. 

How do we knowingly decide to provide substandard education to those that will eventually be responsible for the successful functioning of our communities and world? It is extremely difficult to accept that the only remaining option is to deny our children the opportunity of a quality education. Not a decision many Canadians would accept. What about our elected officials?  

If the expectation is for continued at-home support when the community is going back to work, then compensation must be provided to those providing the additional support (i.e. tutors, lost wages, etc.), and wage reductions must be accepted by those who are no longer doing so. Will this happen? If not, the imbalance must be explained to the taxpayer, after all why would anyone be expected to pay the same bill when receiving 50 per cent less in services? As an experienced businessman, would you? 

Second, if, going forward, we find ourselves in an environment of high unemployment, there will be a fine line between the choice of a partially funded “unopposed” full-time home schooling, and a “restrictive” failing part-time public system. 

Unemployed parents/guardians may simply decide to take direct responsibility for their children’s educational needs and choose home-based learning. This choice, although having many benefits for the family, would negatively impact the public system.

Next, we must consider the choice available to those families with the financial ability to choose between a full-time higher education (private school) or a failing part-time public system. In this environment, good teachers will be head hunted, paid more, and will leave the already suffering system. This will lead to the wealthy being better educated, causing another gap to grow, creating greater division within communities, and causing social unrest to continue to climb. An outcome few Canadians would likely choose. 

What about our elected officials?     

Finally, these two choices of private school and home school will ultimately decrease the public student population, which will, over time, result in school consolidations/closures and layoffs.  Nothing is more stressful than losing one’s livelihood and can create a host of other issues such as health, marital and family problems, not to mention depression and anxiety (adding additional pressures to the system). 

It should also be mentioned that layoffs produce lower incomes, which cause lower consumption and if severe enough will cause recessions. Considering the current state of the economy and rising unemployment, are more layoffs something we should be creating? Exactly how much more can our system (i.e. taxpayer) support? Or should be expected to support? 

As an elected official, are you not outraged with the gross financial burden that is now the responsibility of future generations? How fair is it to saddle them with such a heavy weight, while robbing them of the tutelage needed to manage such an undertaking?

For these reasons, and many others not listed, the distance learning model that is being proposed must be carefully reviewed, and ALL parties involved (boards, unions, teachers, and parents) must not act in haste (or fear), but rather must cautiously consider all of the potential consequences (intended and unintended). We must be assured that the model put forth is in the best interest of both students and Canadians, and not that of the institution, or any political agenda. We must be sure that such a model will not result in the implosion of our educational system. To do otherwise is grossly irresponsible and immoral. 

I call on you to commit to blocking the pursuit of this model and to create a comprehensive plan that is far more mindful of the far-reaching repercussions and likely outcomes that such a program would produce — a model that better reflects the interests of all Canadians.  

Maggie Mazzuca, Sudbury