Sask. Teachers’ Federation calls for more consultation for centralized online learning

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) is raising some red flags with the Ministry of Education’s approach to creating centralized online learning in the province for the 2023-24 school year.

The province is creating a new Crown corporation to offer students from kindergarten to Grade 12 the option to study online, but STF president Samantha Becotte says the government is moving too fast to create such a complex system.

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“This is an extremely complex process, and if the goal is to ensure a consistent, high-quality education for all students accessing online classes, it needs to be done right the first time,” Becotte said.

“At this time, government doesn’t even have a distance learning policy in place outlining where they are going and where they eventually want to be. Many students from all over Saskatchewan can benefit significantly from a well-run, well-funded and closely monitored online public education system that offers quality instruction from certified Saskatchewan teachers.

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The STF said in a release that there were many questions that needed to be answered regarding this project:

  • Whether a Crown corporation is the best structure to deliver online public education and whether it is fiscally responsible.
  • When the provincial distance education policy will be finalized and if education sector partners will be consulted in its development.
  • Required legislative and regulatory changes.
  • Details regarding the governance structure of the new Crown.
  • What adjustments must be made to structures currently in place for funding, staffing, contracts, roles of principals and capital requirements.
  • How connections will be maintained between local teachers and their nearby schools.
  • Details regarding the IT capacity required to build, distribute and train users of a new centralized online education platform.
  • Potential screening criteria to ensure prospective students have the time-management skills needed to benefit from online course instruction.
  • How technological barriers, including computers and reliable internet access, will be removed to provide equitable access to all Saskatchewan students.
  • Confirmation that a plan will be developed to address possible negative consequences for students, such as increased screen time, reduced physical activity and mental health.

“It has been over a month since government announced their plan to centralize distance education, and there are still more questions than answers about how this is going to be actualized. We are ready and willing to be a part of this work,” Becotte said.

Read more: Saskatoon Board of Education calls for long-term funding after one-time offset

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The government of Saskatchewan made the announcement on Oct. 6, noting that the service will be available to all Saskatchewan students.

“Our government firmly believes that the best place for students is in a classroom, however in the event where students are in need of online learning we want to ensure that all students will have access to high quality education regardless of where they are living,” Education Minister Dustin Duncan said in a release.

“We are pleased to enhance their experience through consistency, accessibility and choice, and to best meet whatever their personal learning needs may be.”

The province noted in the release that separate school divisions and qualified independent schools can apply to the ministry to offer online learning, adding that “this application process will ensure they follow a provincial quality assurance framework.”

A funding model and a platform provider haven’t been announced yet, but the ministry said registration for students was anticipated to begin this winter.

Global News has reached out to the Ministry of Education for comment.

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