Ottawa

Parents who opt for remote learning worry about kids' education

Parents who chose to keep their children at home to do remote learning in September say they are worried about the quality of the education their kids will receive and how much extra labour will fall on parents to make sure they don’t fall behind.

Chair of OCDSB says quality of online classes should be equivalent to in-person learning

Many students in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board have opted for online learning rather than in-person classes. As Amanda Pfeffer reports, the board is now preparing to release details on what those virtual classes will look like. 1:45

Parents who chose to keep their children at home next month to do remote learning say they are worried about the quality of education their kids will receive and how much extra labour will fall on them to make sure their children don't fall behind.

With school board plans still in flux and many families reporting a lacklustre experience with online learning when schools closed earlier this year, some parents say they made their decision without a clear understanding of what to expect when the school year begins.

"It's still really not clear for us how much investment and time the parents are going to have to do with the kids," said Ahmed Fawal, the father of two students at Vimy Ridge Public School in Gloucester.

"Back in March, we were basically just given instructional videos and everything was on us."

Fawal and his wife opted for remote learning for their seven- and eight-year-olds in part after seeing the number of daily cases rise in Ottawa rise as the city reopened.

They're not alone. 

Remote learning proves to be popular option

Preliminary results from an Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) survey — to which 91 per cent of parents responded — show more than one-quarter of elementary school students and more than one-fifth of high school students have chosen the remote learning option.

In the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB), 24 per cent of all students will be doing distance learning, according to survey results released on Tuesday.

Parents of students in the Catholic board have until August 21 to change their minds, and parents of public school students will receive instructions later in the week for how they can revise their decision or submit a decision if they haven't already.

Six-year-old Peyton Denette works on her speech and language skills with speech-language pathologist Olivia Chiu of Two Can Talk remotely from her home in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, March 30, 2020. As children in elementary schools prepare for online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, some Ottawa parents continue have questions about what kind of education their kids will be getting. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Christine Moulaison is keeping her youngest child from senior kindergarten because she's concerned younger children may not be able to be vigilant with physical distancing and handwashing.

But she remains uneasy with her decision, worried about the impact that not being in school will have on her son's development.

"I still want to make sure that he's on par with his peers, that he's learning the same things, that … he's not going to be lagging behind," said Moulaison. "I'm still debating, am I making the right choice for my kids?" 

School board plans continue to change

School boards were forced back to the drawing board last week when the Ministry of Education released new directives that, in part, require all elementary and secondary students enrolled in remote learning programs to have access to three hours and 45 minutes of real-time instruction, known as synchronous learning, during each five-hour school day. 

The Catholic board released an updated plan on Tuesday that says students doing distance learning will be grouped into classes with students from their own school as well as neighbouring schools. An online teacher will be assigned to each online elementary class to provide real-time instruction. These teachers will be available to kindergarten students for 180 minutes each day and to elementary students for 225 minutes per day.

WATCH: Questions remain as many students opt for remote learning 

Susan Gardner, president-elect of the local branch of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, says parents and teachers are still wondering what online learning will look like in the fall. 0:54

The OCDSB will release its updated plan for online learning Wednesday, although some details came out at an emergency board meeting on Friday. Board staff said teachers and principals will be dedicated to teach students and oversee what the board is calling "virtual schools." 

The chair of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board of Trustees says she's confident that students who do online learning in September will receive the same quality education as those who attend school.

"We will be providing the same curriculum, meeting the same curriculum objectives, having the same kinds of assessment strategies," said Lynn Scott in an interview.

"Some of the projects might be different so that they can be done in the home environment, but the expectation is that students who learn at home will have as rich and as good an experience as students who learn in person."

Scott said the board has included in its proposed budget for 2020-2021 more money for technology resources and support. She added that teachers now have more experience and training working in a remote environment.

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