As students settle into another round of online schooling, some parents are concerned about what long-term virtual learning might mean for their children’s education.
Local parent Janine Falk, says her seven-year-old daughter, Tanja, definitely fell behind after doing four months of online school last year. Janine says at home learning wasn’t structured well to give her the tools she needed going into grade two, and that has shown in her report card this year. Reading was a particular struggle, and it took Tanja up until Christmas to start reading on her own and at a grade-two level. “Her marks reflected the fact that she clearly lost out on that time that she needed with the teachers to give her proper educational structure,” Janine says.
As an only child, Janine also worried that Tanja wasn’t benefitting from the socialization with peers that she would have gotten at school. “We ended up bubbling with another family because they’re also a family of one child, the same age as Tanja,” she says. “It was the best source of socialization we could offer her at the time.”
Tanja went back to Kemptville Public School in-person in the fall; but now, along with all other Ontario students, she is back learning from home. Janine says that while she would prefer Tanja be in school, both teachers and parents are now more prepared for the realities of virtual learning and things are going much more smoothly. Although the fear of Tanja falling behind is still there, the school is providing them with much more guidance about how to structure the day, and with an end in sight, it is making it much easier to manage. “We have our head in the game completely now, because we know what happened last year and we’ve learned from our mistakes,” Janine says.
Local mom of three, Kristin Strackerjan, agrees that online learning is leaps and bounds ahead of what it was like last year. Her children Mabel (grade 8), Oscar (grade 6) and Zac (grade 4) all go to École Rivière Rideau on the Kemptville Campus. She says they have noticed that kids are more comfortable with using the technology and being in a virtual classroom. Teachers have also been able to put more of a structure in place that is conducive to delivering the material, as well as making sure students know what is expected of them during breaks and asynchronous learning periods. “I think our board and our teachers at our school have done a really good job in adapting to that,” Kristin says.
One of the tools that some school boards and teachers have been using in the virtual space is online gaming. The Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO) has been using online gaming as a way for students to explore and engage in learning that sparks their curiosity and interest. “We are so proud to see CDSBEO technology allow our digital learners to be engaged, adaptable and ready for the next challenge,” said Nancy McIntyre, CDSBEO Principal of Curriculum, in an email. “Through new and emerging technology tools, teachers are expanding learning experiences for students in a highly engaging manner that ensures all students can participate and succeed.”
For example, one CDSBEO program called Girls Who Game, is an extracurricular club of ten grade eight virtual learning female students who are using the popular game Minecraft to re-imagine their community according to two United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Gender Equality and Affordable Clean Energy. “This group is learning how they can be change agents right now through gaming,” Nancy said.
Although Tanja is not yet old enough to participate in a program like Girls Who Game, her teachers are also using online gaming to support learning at the elementary school level. Tanja loves playing a math-based game called Prodigy, where students must solve math problems to defeat an evil puppet master. “Having these tools has been a blessing in disguise,” Janine says. “My daughter’s had a tablet for a few years now, and she can easily manipulate her way into the programs, and then actually like doing them because she’s achieving something. They’re really great learning tools.”
Despite the immense progress that school boards in the province have made to the structure of online learning in just a few short months, many parents still feel that in-person learning is the way to go. With the government hinting at making online school a permanent option for Ontario students, Kristin believes that while it may be a good option for some, in-person is still best for her kids. “I think there are a whole bunch of other questions that sort of fall from those kinds of options that I don’t have the answers to,” she says. “I don’t know what the province will wind up doing, but I wouldn’t want to see the public system, or any system where there’s in class learning for that matter, be degraded because there’s a shift in trying to convince everybody to go online because in class is no longer a good option.”
Janine doesn’t believe that online school is a good permanent option for any student, regardless of whether they excel or not. “I am a firm believer in in-front of teacher schooling practices, especially after having this experience.” While she says online school might be an OK option for high school students, she still thinks they would still be missing the social aspects of the school experience. “There’s the social side of being in school, of being with your friends.”