People for Education Raises Major Concerns about Government Plans to Hand Over Online Learning to TVO/TFO
For immediate release
TORONTO (March 30, 2021) – People for Education has analyzed the province’s plans to shift control of online learning to TVO/TFO and is raising major concerns.
“Now is not the time to introduce a fundamental change to Ontario’s education system,” says Annie Kidder, Executive Director of People for Education, a non-profit public education think tank. “Ontario’s schools, its students, staff, boards, and administration have experienced massive upheaval for more than a year, and there is evidence that this has had a substantial, adverse, and inequitable effect on students’ learning and their mental and physical health. We do not know enough yet about the impact of online learning – in particular on students who were already struggling. Much more information is needed before embarking on a major change like the one the government is proposing.”
New Legislation to include changes to Ontario’s Education Act
According to documents released to the Ministry of Education’s Initiatives Committee, the province plans to introduce Legislation this spring that will not only make remote learning a permanent part of Ontario’s education system, but also fundamentally change the way it is governed. Among other things, the planned legislation would:
- Require school boards to permanently offer synchronous remote learning in elementary and secondary schools for any student whose parents would prefer this option for their child.
- Allow the province to centralize control of online learning under the auspices of TVO/TFO – removing control from school boards that currently have collaborative consortia to deliver online courses.
- Provide the province with the right to appoint TVO/TFO as the central developer, coordinator, and – where students choose – deliverer of a standardized list of secondary online courses.
- Make changes to the roles and responsibilities of school boards and school authorities, including requiring them to pay a per student, per course fee to TVO/TFO for access to online courses.
- Set up TVO/TFO as an income generating entity, marketing online courses and resources to other provinces and other countries.
- Provide all secondary students with a range of options for learning online, including learning independently through courses delivered by TVO/TFO.
What’s the rush?
Fundamentally, People for Education says it does not understand why this change is being rushed through – with the plan for full implementation by the fall of 2022. The group is raising several questions, including:
- TVO’s Independent Learning Centre currently provides credits online to approximately 19,400 students, most of whom are adults. Under the provincial plan, by 2023, 250,000 students per year will be taking courses online – all of them coordinated through TVO/TFO. How will the Ministry of Education and TVO/TFO’s volunteer board ensure that TVO/TFO has the capacity to effectively manage such a substantial change in such a short period of time?
- Up to now, online courses were developed and delivered by certified teachers, who could interact regularly with students. How will the newly created TVO/TFO Learning Centre ensure that students are getting the supports they need?
- Based on evidence from this past year, students who are already struggling may be more likely to enroll in online courses and may opt for the independent model where all courses are delivered by the TVO/TFO Learning Centre. These courses have no limit on class sizes and no expectation of “live learning.” There is overwhelming evidence that the student-teacher relationship is a key component of learning. How does the province plan to address the possibility that the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on students from disadvantaged and racialized communities will not be further amplified by this move?
- Across the country and around the world, experts are pointing to the need for students to develop a wide range of skills and competencies alongside content knowledge. How will students develop vital social-emotional, collaborative, critical thinking, and creativity skills, through content delivery models that have little interaction with other students or teachers?
- For nearly two decades, school board consortia have overseen online learning across the province. According to a letter from the Ontario Public School Board Association to the Minister of Education, the boards worked with principals to “ensure that the courses’ pedagogy, instruction, and assessment practices adhere to Ministry guidelines, the Ontario curriculum, collective agreements, Growing Success, and other required Education Act regulations.” How is the province intending to govern TVO/TFO to ensure that the same high-quality pedagogy and assessment practices will be present in their course delivery model?
- Under this new model, school boards will be required to pay TVO/TFO when their students take courses through the independent model. However, boards will continue to be responsible for providing access to supports through local schools for such things as internet connectivity, as well as mental health and academic support. Students will also need to be supported in taking provincial assessments such as EQAO Math, and the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT). Will new funding models be created to ensure boards have the resources they need to provide things like support for EQAO and OSSLT testing, and essential mental health and guidance supports?
- One component of the new role for TVO/TFO is to generate revenue by marketing online courses and resources to other provinces and countries. Does TVO/TFO currently have the experience or capacity to do this?
- TVO/TFO is an arms’ length agency, and a charity, governed by a volunteer, unelected board. Who will the organization be accountable to? Who will set standards for the organization’s delivery of equitable and high standard education?
People for Education supports the recommendation for a working table
The changes suggested in the Ministry plans could have a long-term impact on students’ success, students’ equitable access to support and programs, and could have implications for privatization of components of Ontario’s publicly funded education system. For many months, People for Education and others have been calling on the province to convene an Education Advisory Task Force. These proposed changes make the call even more urgent.
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