Shift to online learning could spell trouble for rural families
Ontario schools to remain closed until at least May 5
Some rural families are worried about their children falling behind as school closures are extended until at least next month and the provincial government shifts to online learning.
On Tuesday, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced a new program to keep students learning while at home.
But for families with poor internet connections, that learning could prove to be difficult.
"I think we are all aware that rural children are at a pretty bad disadvantage," said Coral Sproule, who lives near Perth, Ont., with her two elementary school-aged children.
Sproule relies on satellite internet, which can be spotty and expensive. It frequently cuts out, making most videos difficult to play and online chats impossible.
Not far away is Kathi-Ann Logan, who also relies on satellite internet technology.
Unlimited data packages aimed at businesses are too expensive, Logan said, which means the capped plan her family relies on forces them to keep a watchful eye on their data usage.
"That's my stress, rationing it out each week," she said.
With their data frequently running out before the month does, Logan says she's worried her two elementary school children will fall behind.
She recently assigned her six-year-old son a treasure hunt on Google Earth, but he was forced to abandon the hunt when, after five minutes of waiting, a photo of the Canadian Rockies had still not loaded.
Logan said while she once felt being forced to rely on countryside internet providers was a first-world problem, that was before the age of physical distancing.
"It's very unreliable day-to-day, hour-to-hour," she said. "Moreso now with more people accessing it."
Pockets of inequality across country
On Monday, University of Ottawa education researcher Michelle Schira Hagerman launched a research project examining digital equity in Ontario.
Pointing to a Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission map that shows pockets of internet inequality across the country, Schira Hagerman said not all Canadians have the same access to both a computer and an online connection.
She also said students bring different skills to working online, and not all feel the same level of comfort when it comes to participating in online learning conversations.
"Teachers are limited, and won't be there in the moment to support and craft and see where kids are struggling," said Schira Hagerman.
Lecce has said that while the province's plans will incorporate online learning, telephone calls and mail-out packages will be used in regions where that's not possible.