online education

The digital faculty takes the lead in Quebec

School attendance may be required by law, but more than 3,500 elementary and secondary school students are taking their classes remotely despite having no health conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19.

According to what The duty learned, a three-year pilot project launched by Quebec is opening the door to online education for these thousands of handpicked students. To qualify, parents must demonstrate that virtual school is the best option for their children based on a number of circumstances: bullying at school, severe anxiety, behavioral or learning disabilities, autism, giftedness, distance from major centers, or attendance at Physical education or arts courses that require regular absence from class.

This is a departure from distance learning, which has only been offered on medical grounds — and with a doctor’s certificate — since the pandemic began. With this new pilot project, Quebec is now also offering the virtual school to “other” children who do not fit into the face-to-face school scheme. But under strict conditions.

The program allows distance learning for “students who are unable to attend school because they need to use specialized health care or social services,” explains a letter from Deputy Education Minister Alain Sans Cartier, sent to a virtual one set up under the School was sent three-year pilot.

“The decision to use such remote services in these situations must be based on an analysis of the individual needs of each student involved,” he adds.

The Ministry of Education says about 3,500 primary and secondary school students are taking their courses remotely as part of 56 pilot projects. This initiative (from September 2021 to June 2024) is part of the Digital Plan, which aims to “promote the use of Distance Learning (FAD) in primary and secondary education. […] The outcomes of this project will help define the ministry’s direction for the future. »

Académie Juillet, a private elementary school in Candiac, Montérégie, is one of the entities eligible to expand their online course offerings as part of the pilot project. The academy has created a formal virtual school housing 16 third, fourth, fifth and sixth grade students. They are grouped into a single class. The teacher lives in La Baie, Saguenay. The students live in 16 different cities.

“It works really well. We see a significant improvement in the motivation and success of our virtual students,” says Julie Gagné, Deputy Director of Académie Juillet.

“We are realistic, we know face to face is good. Our goal is to bring together students that we have lost in the educational network. If we can give them a positive experience for a year or two and then come back to school in the present, all the better,” she adds.

supervised students

Parents of virtual students are delighted. Vanessa Munoz notes that distance learning is tailored to her 10-year-old daughter’s needs “for now.” This mildly autistic student was molested at her neighborhood school in the Laurentians north of Montreal.

The little girl is self-reliant but needs support in class. However, his public school lacked professional services. Vanessa Munoz believes her daughter is better looked after with the virtual school. She appreciates the availability and kindness of the class teacher, who has time to devote to each student.

“My daughter can concentrate on the subject matter. Regular schools are not suitable for children who are slightly different. Anyone who doesn’t “fit” doesn’t have a training that meets their needs,” regrets the mother of the family.

Hugo Vézina has also noticed an improvement in his 9-year-old son’s morale since he started taking all his courses online. The boy was bullied at school, but “my calls were never taken seriously,” he says. The virtual school also provides better care for the boy, who needs close monitoring to be successful, notes the father, who lives in Chaudière-Appalaches, south of Quebec.

While satisfied, both parents point out that July Academy’s tuition of $6,795 per year is a sizable sum compared to a free public school. They want the public network to be more open to tailor-made solutions for students with special needs. The virtual school is one of these innovative ideas.

“I see it as a salvation. We have students who did not do well in school and for whom distance learning is a stepping stone to returning face-to-face,” said Maryline Dallaire, the teacher of the 16 students at July Academy’s virtual school.

Emotion can be heard as she says that one of her students, who had severe reading difficulties, can now read directions given to all the children in the class. Or by remembering this little girl who “feels in her place for the first time in her life” in a school context.

“I have the time to clearly identify the interests of my students. We discuss, we share. I’m so happy when I can get their attention,” says the teacher, in her 30s, and mother of three.

The virtual school’s blind spot is the lack of socialization with real people rather than through in-between screens, believes Maryline Dallaire. “Kids can play with their neighborhood friends, but it’s not like school,” she says.

A temporary fix

Far from being anecdotal, this lack of socialization represents a major deficiency in distance learning, recalls Steve Bissonnette, a professor in TELUQ’s Department of Education. Without breaks, extracurricular activities and limited virtual interaction, children do not have access to one of the main tasks of education – learning about life in society.

The professor is well placed to speak about the virtual school: he teaches at a university created specifically to offer correspondence courses. “This model is designed for autonomous and responsible adults, not elementary school children,” argues Mr. Bissonnette.

He dares to think Quebec will avoid the pitfalls of large-scale virtual schools, which are a “monumental failure” in the United States. “Researchers have recommended a moratorium to stop the development of this type of school in the United States, the results are so bad,” he says.

In an ideal world, the virtual school is a “solution of last resort” in a crisis situation such as during successive waves of the pandemic. “Distance learning is better than no learning. If used well and temporarily, I think it has its place. But it shouldn’t become a whim of parents who think their child is better off in the long run,” says Steve Bissonnette.

Even students who are bullied are at risk of being withdrawn from school for a long time, he said. “Isolating a child does not allow them to develop the means to deal with their problems. When we take him out of school [en lui enseignant à distance] or if we change schools, the bullying is likely to start again when it returns to society. You have to teach him ways of reacting so as not to fall back into the same thing again Sample. »

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