Earlier today, the CBC reporter that Saskatchewan government picks school division with 26% online graduation rate to lead standardization. Readers of this space may recall that as the 2021-22 school year came to a close, we wrote about a Saskatchewan Audit – Sun West School Division Distance Learning (which is where the 26% online graduation rate was revealed).
Regardless, this announcement – as reported by the CBC – ends much of the speculation about what has been a bit of a trend across the country in recent years – the centralization of distance and online learning. In some cases this centralization has taken the form of the provision of technical (e.g., learning management systems, student information systems, virtual classroom tools, etc.) and content resources (i.e., asynchronous distance/online learning content). In other cases it has meant the creation or selection of a centralized distance/online learning provider (as is the case in Saskatchewan).
This trend has been on-going for a few years now. In 2019-20, Ontario announced the centralization of e-learning service when they announced their e-learning graduation requirement. While the specifics have changed over the past few years, Ontario continues to provide a centralized learning management system, student information system, and online course content. It has also created an increased role for its centralized distance learning provider – the Independent Learning Centre (operated by TVOntario). More recently, British Columbia announced a centralized learning management system (at least for their provincial online schools, and optional for those district online schools that wish to use it). Unlike the case in Ontario, it appears that the Ministry of Education in British Columbia will be charging districts for the use of this LMS.
One of the things that makes Saskatchewan interesting is that as a part of the 2009 State of the Nation: K-12 e-Learning in Canada annual report, we described that:
Historically, Saskatchewan has had a system of K-12 distance education much like Manitoba where the Ministry was responsible for the delivery of courses through online — asynchronous and synchronous, televised via satellite, and print-based courses….
Beginning on July 3, 2009 the Ministry devolved the responsibility for distance education to the school divisions. rom 2001 to 2007, the Ministry had worked extensively with teachers, schools, and school divisions to build teacher capacity to build websites and to teach online. As such, most school divisions had already built the infrastructure and had the staff capacity to provide their own distance learning. The Ministry provided additional transition funding in 2008-09 to assist school divisions in taking over courses that had been offered by the Ministry. At present, most of the 29 school divisions have some sort of distance education programme going within their own division.
So it was just over 12 years ago that the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education decided to get out of the business of providing distance education and handed it over to the individual school divisions. While there are still many questions about the role of these distance learning programs that the school divisions established and developed over the past decade, it is kind of ironic that the Ministry both encouraged and provided significant funding for these school divisions to create capacity – and now they are limiting those same program. More to come I’m sure…