Last week the Ontario Teachers’ Federation (OTF) issued a press release entitled Research reports condemn mandatory virtual learning, Ontario Government’s pandemic education policies – Recovery strategies for student learning needed.  In that release, the OTF discussed the findings of two recent reports that they sponsored – both of which focused on the actions of the Government of Ontario with respect to e-learning, but only in the context of the past three years (i.e., from the announcement of mandatory e-learning through the remote learning and hybrid learning provided during the pandemic).

The OTF summarized the two reports, as well as their own recommendations based on the reports’ findings, as:

The Ontario Teachers’ Federation (OTF) released today two research reports, which it funded wholly or in part, that have documented the impact on student learning caused by virtual learning and the Ontario Government’s underfunding of publicly funded education during the pandemic.

“Insufficient government funding led to elementary schools with untenable class sizes, quad and octomesters in high schools that increased learning gaps, long periods of virtual learning, and more ‘disastrous’ hybrid learning in both elementary and high schools,” said Dr. Paul Bocking, author of Schools, Austerity & Privatization in the Pandemic Era.

As a result, a majority of families, educators and students found the over-reliance on virtual and hybrid learning negatively impacted the academic and social-emotional needs of students, according to findings in The Implications of Virtual Teaching and Learning in Ontario’s Publicly Funded Schools, K-12 authored by Dr. Lisa Bayrami. That was especially so for students living in poverty, students with special needs, students from single parent homes and English language learners.

“Virtual learning led to declines in student motivation and readiness to learn, active and interactive engagement, hands-on learning and attention span. It had an adverse impact on the development of social and emotional skills such as problem-solving, and student wellbeing including anxiety and stress,” said Dr. Bayrami.

The hybrid model of teaching and learning, in which educators attempted to engage students in face-to-face and virtual settings simultaneously disrupted learning, increased learning gaps and reduced student motivation and engagement. Bayrami concluded that “hybrid learning is fundamentally flawed and not sustainable.”

The Ontario Government’s seeming intent to privatize aspects of publicly funded education was also addressed by the Bocking report, particularly legislation that would transfer responsibility for e-learning courses previously provided by school boards to TVO/TFO, which will also market courses to private schools and overseas markets. OTF believes this, and the Ontario Government’s two mandatory e-learning course credits for secondary students, are privatization efforts that put profits ahead of student learning.

“On the basis of these findings, there is no place for mandatory e-learning courses and hybrid learning in publicly funded education. This policy has failed to meet the needs of students, teachers and educators,” said OTF President Chris Cowley. “We need the Ontario Government to focus on in-person learning, and commit to reducing class sizes, which provides for greater student-teacher interaction.”

Given the research findings, OTF is also calling on the government to provide necessary funding for recovery strategies to address student learning gaps through teacher-led initiatives, provide more mental health supports for students and respect teacher voices and professional judgement that were ignored by the government during the pandemic.

Given the timeline that the reports focused on, the OTF falls into the same trap that many others have – assuming that virtual learning, e-learning, hybrid learning, and remote learning are all synonyms.  In their news release, there is no attempt made to situate that was has been required due to public health over the past two plus years do not represent the quality e-learning that had occurred in Ontario over the previous 25 years.  In fact, the only references to “remote learning” in the report entitled The Implications of Virtual Teaching and Learning in Ontario’s Publicly Funded Schools, K-12 were direct quotes from parents or a single quote from another piece of literature.  The author of the report completely failed to differentiate the e-learning that has been happening in Ontario since 1995 with the remote learning that has been required for much of the past three school years.  While the actual Schools, Austerity & Privatization in the Pandemic Era report does a better job of situating the mode of delivery since March 2020 as remote learning, unfortunately the OTF fails to capture this nuance in its headline grabbing release.

It is unfortunate that the OTF has chosen this all or nothing position with respect to e-learning.  If for no other reason that some of their members have been teaching e-learning courses for years and it fails to represent their interests and needs from their union representatives.  But more importantly, there are some legitimate concerns that the people of Ontario should have with respect to the implementation of e-learning in the province – some of which are raised in these reports that the OTF have sponsored.  But those legitimate concerns are getting lost amongst a sea of misleading pronouncements and confounding conclusions from individuals and organizations that continue to present their very nuanced issues in black and white terms.

Over the next week or two, we’ll attempt to review both reports.  In the meantime, you can access them at:

Continuing to Confound – Ontario Teachers’ Federation Research Reports

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