Wednesday April 23, 2014

Trustees worry as online courses offered to more students

'I don’t think anything can replace the teacher in the classroom'

Terry Sullivan

The province’s plan to introduce online courses to elementary school students has raised a few alarm bells within the Kamloops-Thompson School District.

As far as teachers and school trustees are concerned, young children benefit most from a teacher’s personal touch and not learning in front of a computer screen.

“I don’t think anything can replace the teacher in the classroom,” said school board chairwoman Denise Harper.

A letter from deputy Education Minister Rob Wood to school boards provincewide notified trustees that students in grades 8 and 9 can enrol in online courses.

Only students in grades 10 to 12 could take online classes prior to the current school year.

The letter states the intention is to allow students from kindergarten through Grade 9 to study online, but “the system is not ready for full implementation.”

School district Supt. Terry Sullivan said high schools and elementary schools operate differently and aren’t funded the same, which makes it easier to offer an online class to secondary students than those in kindergarten or grades 1 through 7.

He suggested a Grade 2 student wanting to take math online creates a whole world of problems.

“Where are you going to put them? How are they going to take the course and then how are you going to fund it?” he asked. “I think the funding part of it is very complicated.”

These are difficulties the province needs to figure out before online learning is expanded, said Sullivan. And he, like Harper, believes younger students benefit most from an actual teacher.

Kamloops-Thompson Teachers’ Association president Jason Karpuk said online programs are a Band-Aid solution to inadequate funding and multi-grade classrooms.

Ideally, the province should increase funding and provide for more one-on-one time between teachers and students, he said.

“Do we want that face-to-face where kids get the social and emotional development because of their interaction with individuals or do we want them interacting with machines?” asked Karpuk.

Students enrolled in online classes are funded at a flat rate of
$400 per course. The Kamloops-Thompson School District receives a base funding of $6,900 per full-time student.

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