The Future of School: How learning could look different in Ontario next year
KITCHENER -- For more than three months, millions of Ontario students have been forced to learn at home.
Students across the province, like Kitchener fifth-grader Amelia Fischer, have been out of the classroom since March break.
"I want it to go back to normal because it was better for me," Fischer says.
When she was asked what she would like to see happen this fall, Fischer was quick to answer with a noted hint of caution.
“I’d like to see my friends,” responded Fischer. “But I think there would be smaller classrooms.”
Fischer’s brother Neil is in Grade 10. He says he wants his high school experience to go back to the exact way it was before the pandemic disrupted his learning.
Their mother Elaine feels the same.
“It’s hard when you have to balance work, home, and kids, and education all at the same time,” she says.
Ontario families like the Fischers are still waiting to find out what school will look like this September.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced on May 19th schools will not re-open until September. Lecce warned “schools will not look the same.”
The government has promised a detailed plan by the end of June.
But other provinces have already provided families with some insight.
Last week in Alberta for example, the government announced it's toying with three scenarios:
- Back to normal;
- A mixture of online and in-person learning; or
- Having students continue remote education
In British Columbia, some children returned to class earlier this month.
Students from kindergarten through Grade 5 have been in classrooms for two days per week. Older students have been placed on a staggered schedule and are allowed to attend in-person classes one day per week.
Over in Quebec, elementary schools outside of Montreal re-opened in mid-May.
Education experts say Ontario families should take note of what’s happening elsewhere.
“We’re hearing across the country of about three different scenarios,” suggests associate Prof. Kristina Llewellyn, an associate professor of social development at the University of Waterloo.
“One is full return in September. The second is that we’re not going to have a return. And the third would be what’s referred to as blended learning or a hybrid model.”
Llewellyn says teachers' unions have asked to speak to the Ministry of Education to help prepare for the method that the government ultimately decides to pursue.
But all three major unions say their requests to be involved with re-entry plans have been ignored.
Llewellyn also notes parents and students have not been involved in the discussion with the Ministry of Education, either.
Another education academic points out that, while the hybrid model may work out for secondary students, it may not be a great option for younger children.
“At the elementary level … the school is also a supervisory body,” says Julie Mueller, Associate Dean in the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University.
Mueller adds that families can expect elementary students to be more active this fall to help them deal with physical distancing, but in an orderly fashion.
“Recess could be skipping. You can’t be physically close when you’re skipping.”
Both education experts believe Ontario’s Ministry of Education will have to consider additional resources like having more teachers to accommodate physical distancing.
More importantly, they say mental health supports will be needed for students who have been traumatized by the pandemic.
“We’re all in the same storm. But we’re not in the same boat,” notes Mueller. “Some kids didn’t even have a boat. So it’s important that we recognize that.”
Both education experts agree: families also need to be ready to for any school scenario.
“We have to prepare for all eventualities,” stresses Llewellyn. "It could very well be that a second wave of COVID hits. Or we have a resurgence during this first wave and we cannot go back in September.”
The Fischers realize online learning may continue.
If it does, Neil Fischer is hoping his high school teachers will streamline their courses through one portal or platform.
“When you have multiple platforms it gets very confusing. Every teacher has a different way they organize stuff,” he says.
His sister isn't so picky.
The only thing Amelia Fischer says she's looking forward to if online schooling continues is sleeping in.