Unlike other blog posts, this article represents an official stance of OSTA-AECO.

RE: Recommendations Regarding Distance Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dear Minister Lecce:

Unprecedented times have led Ontario to face some unprecedented challenges. For the first time in Ontario’s history, the distance that we have from one another is bringing us closer together.

On the advice of public health experts across the country, including Ontario’s Chief and Associate Medical Officers of Health, your government has taken drastic yet needed steps to ensure Ontarians receive the necessary support needed while faced with uncertainty. In return, Ontarians have been working diligently to help slow down a potential health crisis, and our efforts have so far been working. OSTA-AECO thanks your government for implementing the advice of public health experts that have so far helped keep us and our loved ones safe.

Despite this, there are many challenges still posed by both physical and social distancing that have not gone unnoticed. In the education system, your government has worked with school boards to promote distance learning for both the elementary and secondary panels. Though we recognize the system is makeshift, we have heard concerns from student trustees that current iterations of distance learning do not go far enough in fostering accessible one-on-one communication, or in adapting to the current realities for many students. Students have additionally raised issues with inconsistencies in methods of assessment and grading, as well as a lack of diversity in audio-visual materials being used to assess learning progress. These challenges ultimately pose risks to student achievement and the continuation of learning in a post-COVID-19 Ontario.

The current methods of distance learning are unsustainable. Without modifications to distance learning which reflect the above concerns, the inequities in Ontario schools will only become further entrenched once students can safely return to class. In response, our organization has developed recommendations based on five reoccurring themes – equity of opportunity, assessment accommodations, student consultation, student well-being, and long-term planning – that would strengthen distance learning functionalities, if implemented:

Equitable Access to Resources 

OSTA-AECO recommends that the Ministry of Education:

  1. Work with school boards to procure technology at a centralized level for students who still may not have access to technology at home, or who are in boards where there are deficits in supplied technology;
  2. Give special consideration to assistance should be prioritized with students who have special education needs. Additional supports such as check-ins by education workers should also be available to these students before and after school reopens;
  3. Give special consideration and assistance should be prioritized with students who have recently arrived in Canada or who are in English as a Second Language (ESL) programming. Additional supports such as check-ins by counsellors should also be available to these students before and after school reopens; and
  4. Ensure that private education delivery partners adhere to the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and certify that information given by the Ministry to private partners cannot be used for future marketing purposes.

Accommodation in Student Assessment 

OSTA-AECO recommends that the Ministry of Education:

  1. Ensure that students’ grades do not drop below the marks received on March 13, even if students are able to return to school before the end of the term;
  2. Adjust curriculum goals in order to ensure that core expectations of courses are prioritized;
  3. Commit to encouraging the use of virtual “office hours” by education workers to communicate with students about expectations and to provide assistance on assignments;
  4. Invest in in-person and online summer co-op and intern positions, in tandem with investments from the Canada Summer Jobs Program, to make up for lost apprenticeships and internships during the school year;
  5. Implement a database for online video tutorials for students in hands-on and technical courses where practical concepts may normally be taught in person;
  6. Provide optional, centralized certification and training courses for SHSM students by both the Ministry and through public-private partnerships;
  7. Reconsider encouraging that school boards provide synchronous learning, due to the variety of circumstances that students face or demands of essential work; and
  8. Encourage school boards which scheduled DELF examinations to fully subsidize testing fees for certification attempts at a late date.

Continued Student Consultations 

OSTA-AECO recommends that the Ministry of Education:

  1. Should encourage school boards to actively involve student trustees in committee meetings on developing future plans for the upcoming academic year;
  2. Communicate clearly to students, staff, and parents about the status of final exams and who outstanding questions about student assessment should be directed to;
  3. Make announcements and memos on the status of the school year more accessible by creating easy-to-understand fact sheets or graphics with clear information; and
  4. Give students, parents and educators specific outlets to provide feedback on distance learning plans, such as through an online feedback form, unique email address, or phone number operated by Ministry staff.

Preparation for the Upcoming Academic Year 

OSTA-AECO recommends that the Ministry of Education:

  1. Ensure that expectations for the upcoming school year focus on reviewing core concepts and concepts that could not logistically be taught in the previous year;
  2. Continue to develop guidelines for changes to curriculum in an online setting, and provide assistance where necessary to educators adjusting to the online environment; and
  3. Consider evaluating the 110-hour course credit requirement for high school courses to better reflect the demands of online learning or potential unique circumstances.

Student Wellbeing

OSTA-AECO recommends, in collaboration with labour partners, that the Ministry of Education:

  1. Encourage guidance counsellors to do, or to continue doing, phone or virtual check-ins with students who are on track to graduate this academic year to ensure those students have the tools necessary to earn their remaining credits;
  2. Encourage guidance counsellors to do, or to continue doing, phone or virtual check-ins with students who self-identify as Indigenous to ensure that adequate and culturally appropriate resources and plans are in place for those students;
  3. Encourage teachers to do, or to continue doing, virtual check-ins with students on their chosen Virtual Learning Environments; and
  4. Designate times during the current academic year for parents/guardians to collect their child’s belongings, should distance learning continue for the remainder of the school year.

As always, student trustees across Ontario thank you and the Ministry of Education for working diligently to ensure that students continue to have opportunities to learn, even in times of crisis. We also trust in your cooperation with us in these five key areas to help strengthen our education system for both the remainder of the year and in a post-COVID-19 reality.

Sincerely,

OSTA-AECO

c:             Ontario Public School Boards Association

                Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association

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