Quebec’s largest virtual school, which welcomes students from 29 school service centers, has wind in its sails. The demand for online education is so great that voices are being raised in favor of the free choice of parents to educate their children in person or remotely, regardless of their health status.
Currently, only children with a medical condition that makes them vulnerable to COVID-19 (or children who have a vulnerable parent) can take classes remotely. It requires a doctor’s note. But according to what Obligation learned, there is growing pressure for parents to choose online education even for perfectly healthy children.
The rise of the Omicron variant is driving interest in distance learning, but the demand already existed before this new spike 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 set foot in school since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. These students have adapted to their new life completely remotely, according to the testimonies gathered Obligation. “It works very well. Last year we saw continued success and even a slight increase in the results of our students at the virtual school,” says André-Paul Bouchard, director of École Saint-Jacques, whose students use the ČSSDĽP virtual education service.
Like all service centers, ČSSD 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 ideal. To create complete groups at each level of primary and secondary schools, ČSSDHR had the idea of offering its virtual services to all service centers; 28 of them from all regions of Quebec 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), retraining and psychoeducational services, a secretary and other employees. Students complete the same educational program as those who study full-time. They are also rated. They have to follow the schedule.
The virtual school is so successful that the ČSSD proposes to offer it to all parents who want it, even if their children are healthy. “We are being challenged by several parents who would like this solution. We think it would meet the needs of many children,” says André-Paul Bouchard.
Sophie Roy is one parent who enjoys distance learning. Her two youngest children, asthmatics, have been attending the ČSSD virtual school since the beginning of the pandemic. They haven’t set foot in a “real” school since March 2020.
“We think we made the right decisions. Health is priceless for us,” says the mother of four children.
The pandemic has changed the daily life of this family from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. Sophie Roy and her husband ran a home care service. When the pandemic broke out, five toddlers in their care developed high fevers. Due to asthma, which was suffered by three of the family’s children and the father, the couple decided to close the nursery.
Father found a new job. A stay-at-home mother oversees the virtual education of her two primary-age boys. “You have to be present as a parent. We can’t leave them alone at that age, they need supervision,” says Sophie Roy.
The two boys adapted to their new life without any problems. The youngest Vincent (at 4e year), he is still looking forward to playing “in person” with his friends. As for Herman (in 6e year), his virtual friends are enough for him for now. Plays network video games. He also launched his YouTube channel.
“It’s really great, a virtual school. I have as many friends as I did at school, and I have more time to ‘game,’” says Herman.
As a bonus, there is no doubt about the quality of the air in the house, underlines Sophie Roy. And the family escapes the closed classrooms affected by the COVID-19 epidemic.
An exciting project
Professor Isabelle Forget of Valleyfield confirms that students adapt “tremendously” to distance learning. She never regretted that she decided to join the virtual school, which was strongly recommended by her doctor for health reasons.
“I would never have thought of finding myself in virtual teaching. I didn’t know anything about it when we started last year. But it’s so motivating that I’ll keep going as long as possible,” he says.
He witnesses “small miracles” daily: struggling students who eventually succeed. Once anxious children who are comfortable in front of screens. Parents are committed to their children’s success. He has time to devote himself individually to each of his 23 students. One of the challenges is the limitation of working hours: he happens to answer students’ questions 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 vital role in their development and success. School is also an important social safety net.
Education Minister Jean-François Roberge says he is sensitive to parents’ arguments but is staying the course on compulsory attendance, except of course for periods such as early January when public health recommends distance learning.
The Pediatric and Public Health Association believes that “the dangers of not attending school [sont] more important for children than those associated with COVID-19,” says Florent Tanlet, the minister’s press secretary.
“Interactions, direct connections with their teachers and all staff, as well as with their friends, play a vital role in their development and success. The school is also an important social safety net,” he adds.
Steve Bissonnette, a professor in TELUQ’s Department of Education, believes the minister is making the right decision to require class attendance as long as public health allows. Virtual teaching is a “last resort” to be implemented only in the event of a crisis, he warns.
Scientific studies prove without any doubt that children around the world have suffered from distance education since the start of the pandemic. More importantly, the virtual schools established for twenty years in the United States are, according to him, a “disaster.”
“It’s been twenty years since the United States tried virtual school, and twenty years since it didn’t work,” says Steve Bissonnette. Pass rate drops by 10% in virtual mode. Students fall behind in their 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. Virtual school may be good for some, but science continues to conclude that it is negative in every way. »