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Ford government’s plan to make virtual learning permanent an attack on public education

March 25, 2021

TORONTO, ON—At a time when the top education priority for the Ford government should be to ensure schools across Ontario remain open safely for in-person learning, they are instead planning to make virtual learning permanent while undermining Ontario’s public education system.

“The move to virtual learning was never intended to be permanent; it was a temporary measure intended to deliver emergency instruction during a global health crisis. But this was never the Ford government’s plan. It’s now clear that, throughout the pandemic, they’ve been working on a virtual learning plan that will divert funds from publicly funded education to private companies,” says Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario President Sam Hammond. “To be clear, this plan will negatively affect students, increase inequities, lower standards in publicly funded education, and put us one step closer to the privatization of public education.”

Throughout the pandemic, we have seen that virtual learning can have detrimental impacts on student health and well-being. Notes Hammond, “The Ford government agrees that in-person learning is critical to the social and emotional health of students. This is what they say drove their decision to keep schools open during the height of the pandemic when they failed to provide the appropriate safety protocols to protect students and educators. In fact, Minister Lecce has stated that there is nothing more important than returning students to school safely because it’s crucial for their development, mental health and future success.”

Students thrive in an in-person environment where they learn collaboratively, and where their learning is assessed daily through formal and informal observations and assessments. This is true of all students, but especially imperative to those in elementary.

Medical experts agree that in-person learning is the best option for children of all ages from an overall health and learning perspective. In SickKids’ COVID-19: Guidance for School Operation during the Pandemic document, they state that “full-time remote learning is insufficient to meet the needs of the majority of Ontario children and youth, leads to increased screen time and is likely detrimental to overall health.” They go on to say that the “daily in-person school model is best for the educational and developmental needs of children as it allows for consistency, stability and equity, regardless of the region in which children and youth live.”

Adds Hammond, “Much like the province’s response to school safety during the pandemic, the Conservative government’s primary motivation with virtual learning is to save money. Their intention is not about giving students and families more choice; it’s about monetizing virtual learning.”

“This is not what Ontario students need. We call on families to join us in standing and speaking against this latest proposal of the Ford government. This is not a decision that is in the best interest of your children. Tell Premier Ford and Minister Lecce that you will not support the dismantling of our public education system, and that you will not allow them to prioritize money over your child’s right to high-quality publicly funded education in Ontario,” says Hammond.

ETFO represents 83,000 elementary public school teachers, occasional teachers and education professionals across the province. Its Building Better Schools education agenda can be viewed at BuildingBetterSchools.ca.

For more information, contact Carla Pereira, ETFO Media Relations, at 416-576-9074 or cpereira@etfo.org.