Online physical education classes spark outrage among Quebec gym teachers

Nine CEGEPs in Quebec have been offering online physical education classes for students since January, but not everybody is on board with the screen-based gym classes.

9 CEGEPs are participating in a screen-based pilot project aimed at long-distance learners

A group of Quebec gym teachers question a plan to offer physical education classes online, saying it takes away from the point of gym classes. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Nine CEGEPs in Quebec have been offering online physical education classes for students since January, but not everybody is on board with the screen-based sessions.

The pilot project allows students enrolled in distance education courses to engage in physical activity while staying in regular contact with the professors in charge, earning course credit.

So far, five students have enrolled in the program, which is overseen by CEGEP de l'Abitibi-Témiscamingue, a school located about 500 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

Though it's intended to give students a chance to earn all their needed credits to graduate, the program is strongly opposed by a group of Quebec gym teachers with more than 600 members. 

The group objects to the fact that no face-to-face meetings with education advisors are required, and says the program takes away from the purpose of gym classes, which are not just about exercise.

Jérôme Leriche, a professor of education and sports at the Université de Sherbrooke, opposes the online program.

He said physical education classes prevent sedentary lifestyles and obesity while helping young people develop self-confidence.

Students, he added, also learn about co-operation in traditional gym classes.

"One of the things you do in physical education classes is develop social connections," he told Radio-Canada. "They get to know other students outside their own programs."

Leriche said he is concerned about opening distance education programs such as this to all students in the absence of data. There are risks to a wider implementation, he said.

"Are our students lab rats to test something?" He asked.

The CEGEP at a distance program is a centralized tool that allows students from all over the province to take certain courses remotely.

However, to access these virtual classes, students must meet with educational consultants to justify exceptional circumstances that give them access to distance learning.

Team of gym teachers consulted

Eric Aubin, the director of studies at the CEGEP de l'Abitibi-Témiscamingue, said the pilot project is primarily a response to the demands of students who struggled to complete their mandatory courses.

"We worked together to meet the demands of our students," he said, noting many have schedules and lives far outside the average.

Regarding the criticism, Aubin said the program was developed in concert with professionals.

"We consulted our team of teachers in physical education," he said.

The office of Education Minister Jean-François Roberge refused to comment on the issue.

In an e-mail exchange between Leriche and the education minister's office, the ministry said it has "confidence in CEGEP administrations, which are perfectly able to determine the objectives and standards for distance education."

Based on a report by Radio-Canada's Maxime Corneau


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