The Ontario government has made the not unexpected move to keep schools across the province closed for another month. Along with this decision, the Ministry of Education has also announced new plans for how Ontario’s students can continue their learning while at home, but there might still be issues in terms of the available resources.
Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce, and others announced the extended closure and education plans at the regularly scheduled press conference at Queen’s Park on Tuesday.
First and foremost, they announced that Ontario’s public and Catholic schools will be closed until May 4. Private schools, licensed child care centres and EarlyON programs will also remain closed until April 13, since the Declaration of Emergency only allows those closures to be reviewed every two weeks.
“The decision to extend school closures was not made lightly. We know from the medical experts that the next two weeks will be critical in the fight against COVID-19 and that’s why we’re taking further action to keep our kids safe and healthy by having them stay home,” said Ford in a statement.
In addition to the current resources on the Province’s Learn at Home website, the Ministry of Education will also be helping teachers use digital tools to connect with students, train teachers on how deliver virtual learning, and reconnect students with their teachers and mental health workers.
In terms of interaction with teachers, students have been organized into four groups with four different standards for how much time students will work with their teachers and what things they should be focusing on in their time together:
- Kindergarten-Grade 3: five hours of work per student/week (focus on literacy and math)
- Grades 4-6: five hours of work per student/week (focus on literacy, math, science and social studies)
- Grades 7-8: 10 hours of work per student/week (focus on math, literacy, science and social studies)
- Grades 9-12: three hours of work per course per week for semestered students; 1.5 hours of work per course per week for non-semestered students (focus on achieving credits/completion/graduation)
“We will do whatever it takes to keep students safe from COVID-19 – which is why we have extended the school closure period and why we have unveiled a teacher-led program that keeps students learning while at home,” added Lecce. “By providing clarity for parents, enhancing support for students and enabling the teacher-student relationship, we are ensuring our children continue to safely learn – providing some sense of stability and hope for them amid this difficulty.”
Both the Upper Grand and Wellington Catholic District School Board have sent notice to parents about how they will implementing the Ministry’s changes. The UGDSB has been reaching out to parents to learn how best they can implement their Distance Learning Plan, and the Wellington Catholic DSB are also trying to establish the needs of students of their families to deliver course work.
Ontario’s teachers’ unions are supportive, but they want to remind the Ministry that adjusting in these means recognizing that not all students have the same access to resources, and that one size does not fit all when it comes to teaching in these unprecedented times.
“We have reminded the Ministry that many students have unique and specialized needs and that some have challenging circumstances affecting their ability to engage in learning outside the classroom,” said Sam Hammond, President of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario in a statement. “It is extremely important that during this temporary situation, we strive to provide equitable and inclusive opportunities for students to advance their learning.”
“I have spoken directly with the Minister of Education, and have reiterated our desire to work collaboratively to ensure that students are able to continue their education under these extraordinary circumstances,” added Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation president Harvey Bischof in a statement on Thursday. “We have both committed to ongoing communication in the effort to best support students. Our goal is to put forth a plan that is equitable, accessible, and ensures our students can learn effectively in this unprecedented situation.”
The government-owned TV Ontario will also be increasing the number of educational programs they broadcast during the day, while the Learn at Home site is being augmented with new courses and material including STEM courses from third parties and resources for parents.
There was also news for post-secondary students on Tuesday with the announcement that OSAP loan repayments will be put on a six-month, interest-free moratorium until September 30. In terms of their education, the government has also finalized the details of eCampusOntario, which offers English and French language support for students to get the resources they need to finish the semester.
The Province is also making $25 million available in funding for colleges and universities to address pressing needs to battle COVID-19 on campus in terms of cleaning materials and medical supplies.
“Students and their families make great sacrifices to attend postsecondary education and it is incumbent on us to do everything we can to ensure this academic year is not put in jeopardy,” said Ross Romano, Minister of Colleges and Universities in a statement. “I want to thank our postsecondary institutions for their leadership in adopting alternative ways for students to study and take exams, while ensuring they practice physical distancing and stay safe.”
The University of Guelph announced last week that they’ve cancelled convocation week, and Alumni weekend for June. The ceremony may be rescheduled, and the U of G said that they’re looking for other ways to celebrate the achievements of graduates.
“Both convocation and Alumni Weekend are very important for our University. Celebrating our students’ accomplishments is a source of great joy for everyone on campus, and both events provide opportunities for us to look back with pride and to look forward with hope. However, the safety of our community must be our top priority,” said U of G President Franco Vaccarino in a statement.