– By Nea Maaty –

For almost two years, Toronto and many parts of Ontario have been dealing with a lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Education-wise, students are either homeschooling, involved in virtual schooling or a combination of the two. One thing we do know is that students are not having the same experiences they used to in terms of a regular school day.

As we move on from the pandemic era and prepare for a return to in-class schooling next year, the question raised is: how much of virtual learning will be here to stay?  

Will cost cutting governments use the Covid-19 experiment of the past two years to reduce teachers and increase class sizes by putting more of the curriculum on-line? To answer this question, many are now trying to assess the effectiveness of virtual education. 

Rox Hayward, a teacher at Rose Avenue Junior Public School in St. James Town, discusses the positives and negatives of virtual learning.  Hayward teaches grades 3, 5, 6, and 7 and is a supporter of on-line education. “My students and I have fun every day,” she says. 

For Hayward the teaching experience this year has been very positive. Attendance in her virtual classroom was always at 100%. “The students were excited to learn and to give more to the educational experience,” she says.  Even so, Hayward admits there were some barriers.  “One of the teaching duties this year has been making sure that the families of students – who are struggling financially because of the lockdown – know how and where to access community and internet resources.”

Hayward believes that teachers should advocate on behalf of their students and report to their school’s principals to make sure their students have the resources they need to access on-line learning. “The Toronto District School Board has done a tremendous job with providing students with resources.” 

Although Hayward supports on-line learning, she admits that many of her peers who have been trained in traditional education methods may not be comfortable with the technology or lack the skills to deliver on-line schooling effectively. She also concedes that students who do the best are the ones whose parents are actively involved and assist their children with their studies.  But she says, “Not all parents have that kind of time or luxury.”  

Still, the Rose Avenue teacher feels that on-line learning is an opportunity to expand student learning experiences far beyond the classroom.  Hayward points to her own experiences developing an interactive on-line lesson about Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, a Black couple that settled in Toronto after escaping slavery in the United States.  The Blackburn’s created Toronto’s first taxicab, which was named, “The City.”  Students get to experience what Toronto was like in the 1800’s and navigate the world of the Blackburn’s through this type of learning tool.  

Not everyone is enamoured with on-line education though. In speaking with St. James Town parents and students about on-line learning, one parent expressed how difficult it was to have the children at home all day, working or playing on the computer. “I’m worried about their education level,” she said.  

Some St. James Town students expressed other difficulties such as issues with internet connectivity. “Sometimes I cannot hear properly what the teacher says,” said one student. Other students commented on liking the freedom of their schedule during their first semester, but now it’s becoming tough with long hours on the screen and the lack of social interaction. 

Whether you like virtual education or prefer in-person classes, it will be interesting to see how much on-line learning will be integrated into the public education curriculum in the years that follow the pandemic. 

For more on our interview with Rox Hayward, visit https://youtu.be/L9Q3WR8YOYE.