The virtual school takes the initiative in Quebec

School attendance may be required by law, but more than 3,500 elementary and high school students are taking distance learning classes even though they do not have any illness that makes them vulnerable to COVID-19.

Depending on what Duty He has learned that a three-year pilot project created by Quebec is opening the door to online education for these thousands of hand-selected students. To qualify, parents must demonstrate that virtual school is the best choice for their children due to a variety of circumstances: bullying, severe anxiety, behavioral or learning difficulties, autism, giftedness, distancing from the elderly. centers or participation in sports studies or artistic study programs that require regular absences from class.

This is a change in distance education that has been offered only for medical reasons – and with a medical certificate – since the beginning of the pandemic. With this new pilot project, Quebec is now offering virtual schooling to “different” children who do not fit into the mold of the school in attendance. But in strict conditions.

The program allows distance education to “students who can not attend school because they must receive specialized health care or social services,” says a letter from the Deputy Minister of Education, Alain Sans Cartier, sent to a virtual school created in the framework of the three-year pilot project.

“The choice to use these distance learning services in these situations should be based on an analysis of the individual needs of each of the students concerned,” he added.

The Ministry of Education specifies that approximately 3,500 primary and secondary students are taking their distance learning courses as part of 56 pilot projects. This initiative (from September 2021 to June 2024) is part of the Digital Plan, which aims to “promote the deployment of distance learning (FAD) in primary and secondary education. […] The conclusions of this project will help to define the future directions of the Ministry. »

The Académie Juillet, a private primary school in Candiac, Montérégie, is one of the establishments authorized to expand its range of online courses as part of the pilot project. The Academy has created a formal virtual school that accommodates 16 third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders. They are grouped into a single class. The teacher lives in La Baie, Saguenay. Students reside in 16 different cities.

“It simply came to our notice then. We see a marked improvement in the motivation and success of our virtual school students, ”says Julie Gagné, Deputy Director of the Académie Juillet.

“We are realistic, we know that face to face is good. Our goal is to connect the students we were losing to the educational network. If we can give them a positive experience for a year or two and then go back to school in attendance, so much the better, ”he adds.

Supervised students

Parents of virtual school students are delighted. Vanessa Muñoz points out that distance education is tailor-made, “for the time being”, to the needs of her 10-year-old daughter. This slightly autistic student was bullied at her Laurentian school in northern Montreal.

The girl is self-employed, but needs class support. However, professional services were sorely lacking in his public school. Vanessa Muñoz believes that her daughter is better supervised with the virtual school. He is grateful for the availability and kindness of the classroom teacher, who has time to devote to each of the students.

“My daughter can focus on the material that needs to be learned. Normal schools are not suitable for slightly different children. If you don’t “fit” in the mold, you don’t have an education that fits your needs, “laments the mother.

Hugo Vézina has also noticed an improvement in the morale of his 9-year-old son since he took all his courses online. The boy was being harassed at school, but “my calls were never taken seriously,” he says. The virtual school also provides better supervision for the child, who needs close monitoring to be successful, says the father who lives in Chaudière-Appalaches, southern Quebec.

While satisfied, both parents point out that the $ 6,795 annual fees at the July Academy represent a considerable sum compared to the free public school. They want the public network to be more open to tailor-made solutions for students with special needs. Virtual schooling is one of those innovative ideas.

“I see it as a rescue. We have students who didn’t do well in school and for whom distance learning is a springboard to get back to face-to-face,” said Maryline Dallaire, the teacher of the 16 students at the school. ‘virtual school of the July Academy. .

The emotion is felt when he says that one of his students, who had a hard time reading, can now read the instructions given to all the children in the class. Or evoking this girl who hoped to “feel in her place for the first time in her life” in a school context.

“I have time to clearly identify the interests of my students. We discuss, we share. I am very happy when I manage to get her attention, ”says the teacher of about thirty years, mother of three children.

The blind spot of virtual schooling is the lack of socialization with real people, and not through interposed screen, believes Maryline Dallaire. “Kids can play with friends in the neighborhood, but it’s not like school,” he says.

A temporary solution

Far from being anecdotal, this lack of socialization represents a major shortcoming in distance education, recalls Steve Bissonnette, a professor in TELUQ’s Department of Education. Without recreation, extracurricular activities and limited virtual interactions, children do not have access to one of the main missions of education: that of learning about life in society.

The teacher is well placed to talk about the virtual school: he teaches at a university created specifically to offer distance learning courses. “This model is designed for autonomous and responsible adults, not for primary school children,” argues Mr. Bissonnette.

He dares to believe that Quebec will avoid the pitfalls of large-scale virtual schools, which are a “monumental failure” in the United States. “Researchers have recommended a moratorium on stopping the development of this type of school in the United States, the results are so bad,” he said.

In an ideal world, the virtual school is a “solution of last resort” in a crisis situation such as during the successive waves of the pandemic. “Distance education is better than non-education. If used properly and temporarily, I think it has its place. But it shouldn’t be a whim for parents who think it’s best for their child in the long run, “says Steve Bissonnette.

Even bullied students run the risk of being kicked out of school for a long time, he said. “Isolating a child does not allow him to develop the means to deal with his problems. If we take him out of school [en lui enseignant à distance] or if we change schools, bullying is likely to start again when we return to society. You need to teach them how to react so that they don’t fall for it again pattern. »

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