Think online learning in local schools has been phased out? Think again

Both London-area schoolboards are providing some form of virtual learning to schoolkids this fall, even though the numbers of those who want it have dropped dramatically.

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The London area’s two major school boards are providing some form of virtual learning this fall, even though the number of students who want it has dropped dramatically.

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“We are seeing more students returning in person and that is what we need at Thames Valley,” said Sheila Builder, superintendent of student achievement with the Thames Valley District school board. “We respect the choice but we do know that students thrive when they are in person.”

For some families virtual learning is still “their preferred learning model” to support their child’s mental health or other medical concerns, she said.

About 450 elementary pupils and 345 high school students are learning online this school year.

The board says 200 elementary pupils and 300 high school students have requested to learn online this fall.

That means only five hundred of more than 80,000 students will learn at home next year.

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“The numbers are substantially lower,” Builder said.

Area schools first switched to online learning in 2020, shortly after the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March of that year.

During the following school year, 2021-22, schools pivoted back and forth between online and in-person learning as the deadly Omicron variant spread.

The 2022-23 school year was largely free from lengthy learning disruptions caused by COVID.

High school students had until March to sign up for online learning next year while elementary pupils had until the beginning of April.

Online learning will be different next year for high school students in the Thames Valley board, Builder said.

“We are offering e-learning, which is where students would take a course asynchronously, so it’s not live (teaching),” Butler said.

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Online learning will continue in real time for pupils in grades 1 to 8, she said.

“The research really supports in-person play-based learning (for kindergarten pupils),” Builder said. “It allows their development both physically, emotionally and socially.”

In the Thames Valley board, students will have to stick with their chosen model of learning for the most part through the school year.

“It’s very challenging for students and for the class to change within learning models – going back in person or go virtual,” she said.  “So the time frame has closed so we could staff it. There is no movement.”

The board isn’t offering virtual learning in French immersion due to a lack of interest.

Virtual learners will also have to reside in the Thames Valley catchment area.

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“That’s critical – that’s changed over the last few years,” she said.

The London District Catholic board is also offering non-live e-learning courses to high school students in the fall, board spokesperson Mark Adkinson said.

High school students learning online, even if they have a full slate of courses, will belong to their home school and will be able to take part in clubs and sports.

But the board won’t provide online learning for elementary pupils if it isn’t able to have a full classroom, Adkinson said.

The board is waiting for the results of forms sent to families of pupils learning online to see what their intentions are for the next school year, he said.

Both boards saw a steep decline last fall in the number of students learning online, a sign families may be viewing pandemic online classes as a thing of the past.

 Thames Valley District school board

2020-2021: About 3,000 in high school, 9,000 in elementary

2021-2022: 1,392 in high school, about 3,000 in elementary

2022-2023: About 350 in high school, 450 in elementary

London District Catholic school board

2020-2021: About 3,000 in elementary and high schools

2021-2022: 526 in high school, 374 in elementary

2022-2023: 210 in high school, 85 in elementary

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