On-line courses may be the future, but students at Delhi District Secondary School fear some of their peers may be left behind.
As part of its education reform package, the Ford government says Ontario high school students will have to collect a handful of credits through on-line learning before they graduate.
Beginning in 2020, students will have to collect one on-line credit per year. The four required to secure a diploma by 2024 is the most for any secondary school jurisdiction in North America.
But not all households are ready.
During a protest of the education reforms at DDSS Thursday, students say high-speed Internet is unreliable or non-existent in some rural areas outside Delhi. As well, not all households can afford a computer and an internet connection for their children.
“Some of us won’t be able to get on (the internet) because we’re too far away from the networks,” said Elizabeth Clarke, a Grade 12 student at DDSS and co-organizer of last week’s protest.
“And not everyone can afford a computer,” added co-organizer Matt Bailey, also a Grade 12 student at DDSS.
Students at high schools across Ontario walked out Thursday as part of an organized protest. Another issue on the agenda included the move to larger class sizes in high school and the thousands of teaching jobs that will cost.
Bailey says larger classes mean fewer teachers available to guide students. Bailey also fears cuts are coming to programs that help students with special needs.
Nearly 100 students at DDSS took part in the protest. They waved signs and chanted slogans as motorists passing by on James Street honked their support.
Bailey said Thursday’s protest was student-driven. Bailey and Clarke said they were not allowed to put up posters in school, so they relied on social media and word-of-mouth.
“We haven’t had any coaching from teachers,” Bailey said. “Teachers were telling us to stay in class because that’s what the school board was telling them to say.”
A similar protest was staged across the county at Simcoe Composite School.
There as elsewhere, students took exception to the Ford government’s plan to increase class sizes, make on-line classes for high school students mandatory, and ban cell phones from classrooms.
About 90 students left classes, chanting “Students say no” and “Cuts hurt kids,” among other things. They cheered when cars passing on Norfolk Street North honked their support.
Although the changes won’t affect most Grade 12 students, they worry about younger students and the quality of education they will receive.
“We have a lot of things here that make learning accessible for everybody and make it easier for kids with different challenges, making it possible for them to succeed,” said Grade 12 student Aisley Ellis. “I don’t think e-learning will help with that. It will just create more challenges.”
The province-wide walkout was organized by a group called March for Our Education. A total of 700 high schools signed on to participate. Eight Grand Erie district schools were among them.
Students in Simcoe walked from SCS to MPP Toby Barrett’s office on Norfolk Street North. The students got no response from Barrett after a walkout in March protesting changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), the province’s post-secondary education grant and loan initiative.
Barrett was not at his office Thursday but a representative listened to the students’ concerns. Bobbi Ann Brady, Barrett’s executive assistant, told students to write letters to Barrett explaining their issues.
“For me, my dad is a teacher and I want to be a teacher, that’s what I want to go to school for in the fall, so it’s tough that this is happening right now,” said Ben Morrison, a Grade 12 student at SCS.
“It could be a life-long change for me. When I finish post-secondary, it is going to be way harder for me to find a job as a teacher.”
SCS principal John Della Fortuna sent a letter home with students earlier in the week stating “There are many ways individuals can voice their opinions and we urge students to choose ways that do not impact their learning. We are also encouraging parents to have similar conversations with their children at home.”
The letter said the school will follow all regular protocols regarding students leaving class. The school board echoed the principal’s letter.
“While the Grand Erie District School Board understands everyone has a right to their own opinion, we firmly believe students belong in the classroom where important learning is taking place, and where we can keep students safe,” said Kimberly Newhouse, manager of communications and community relations. – with files from Ashley Taylor