Enthusiasm for a digital faculty in Quebec

Quebec’s largest virtual school, which welcomes students from 29 school centers, has wind in its sails. The demand for online education is so great that there are voices in favor of parents’ free choice to educate their children in person or at a distance, regardless of their state of health.

Currently, only children with a medical condition that makes them vulnerable to COVID-19 (or children who have a vulnerable parent) can attend long-distance classes. It requires confirmation from a doctor. But according to that Duty learned, there is growing pressure for parents to choose online education even for completely healthy children.

The rise of the Omicron variant is arousing interest in distance learning, but demand already existed before this new increase in COVID-19 cases. The virtual school created by the Center de services scolaire des Hautes-Rivières (CSSDHR) in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu thus arouses the enthusiasm of parents. This online school brings together more than 250 elementary and high school students from all regions of Quebec.

Dozens of these children have not entered school since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. These students have adapted to their new lives at a distance, according to evidence gathered Duty. “It works very well. Last year, we saw continued success and even a slight increase in the results of our virtual school students, ”says André-Paul Bouchard, director of the École Saint-Jacques, whose students benefit from CSSD virtual education.

Like all service centers, the CSSD offers distance education to children with a doctor’s certificate. Due to the limited number of students, it was necessary to group children of different levels with the same teacher. It wasn’t perfect. To create complete groups at every level of primary and secondary schools, the CSSD had the idea to offer its virtual services to all service centers; 28 of them from all regions of Quebec have responded to the call and are sending students to this online school.

It is a “school” in good condition, with fifteen teachers (six in primary, nine in secondary), in-service and psychoeducational services, a secretary and other staff. Students complete the same educational program as those who study full-time. They are also rated. They have to stick to the schedule.

The virtual school is so successful that the CSSD proposes to offer it to all parents who want it, even if their children are in good health. “We are challenged by several parents who would like this solution. We think it would meet the needs of many children, “says André-Paul Bouchard.

health comes first

Sophie Roy is one of the parents who enjoys distance education. Her two youngest children, asthmatics, have been attending a CSSD virtual school since the beginning of the pandemic. Since March 2020, they have not entered a “real” school.

“We think we have made the right decisions. Health is priceless for us, “says the mother of four.

The pandemic changed the daily life of this Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu family. Sophie Roy and her husband ran a home childcare service. When the pandemic broke out, five toddlers in their care developed high fevers. Due to the asthma suffered by three of the family children and the father, the couple decided to close the crib.

My father found a new job. The mother stays at home to oversee the virtual teaching of her two primary-age boys. “You have to be present as a parent. We can’t leave them alone at this age, they need supervision, “says Sophie Roy.

The two boys adapted to the new life without any problems. The youngest Vincent (at 4e year), she is still looking forward to playing with her friends in person. As for Herman (in 6e year), so far his virtual friends are enough. He plays network video games. He also launched his YouTube channel.

“It’s a really great, virtual school. I have as many friends as at school and I have more time to “play,” says Herman.

As a bonus, there is no doubt about the air quality in the house, Sophie Roy emphasizes. And the family escapes the closed classes affected by the COVID-19 epidemic.

Exciting project

Professor Isabelle Forget of Valleyfield confirms that students are “tremendously” adapting to distance learning. She never regretted that she had decided to enter a virtual school, which her doctor strongly recommended for health reasons.

“I never thought I would find myself in virtual teaching. When we started last year, I didn’t know anything about it. But it is so motivating that I will continue for as long as possible, “he says.

Every day, he witnesses “little miracles”: students in difficulty who eventually succeed. Once anxious children who feel comfortable in front of the screens. Parents are committed to the success of their children. He has time to devote individually to each of his 23 students. One of the challenges is to reduce working hours: students answer questions by chance in the evening.

“We have a strong sense of belonging. I have the impression that we are building something important. If my adult children went to primary or secondary school today, I would be the first to send them to a virtual school, ”says Isabelle Forget.

Interactions, direct connections with their teachers and all staff, as well as their friends, play a crucial role in their development and success. The school is also an important social safety net.

Necessary presence

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge says he is sensitive to his parents’ arguments, but is taking a course on compulsory attendance, except during periods such as early January, when public health recommends distance learning.

The Association of Pediatricians and Public Health considers that “the dangers of not attending school [sont] more important for children than those associated with COVID-19, “says Florent Tanlet, the secretary’s press secretary.

“Interactions, direct connections with their teachers and all staff, as well as with their friends, play a crucial role in their development and success. The school is also an important social safety net, “he adds.

Steve Bissonnette, a professor in the TELUQ education department, is convinced that the minister makes the right decision when he requires attendance, if public health allows. Virtual teaching is a “last resort” that should only be implemented in the event of a crisis, he warns.

Scientific studies show without a doubt that children around the world have suffered from distance learning since the beginning of the pandemic. More importantly, he said, virtual schools set up in the United States for twenty years were a “disaster.”

“It’s been twenty years since the United States tried virtual school and twenty years since it worked,” says Steve Bissonnette. Completion rate will drop by 10% in virtual mode. Students lag behind in learning by five months a year. Isolation causes them to lose social skills and can lead to mental health problems.

“The longer the school is closed, the greater the damage,” he said. A virtual school can be good for someone, but science still comes to the conclusion that it is negative in all respects. »

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