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Online Learning Debate: Why are Canadian Public Schools Lagging?

Online learning is very much in vogue, as are futuristic calls for public schools everywhere to embrace “21st Century Learning Skills.”  A small band of Canadian Information  Communication Technologies (ICT) innovators , inspired by futurists like Toronto author Don Tapscott, New Brunswick IT guru William Keirstead, and Vancouver teacher David Wees are certainly out there championing the cause.

Yet a brand new Canadian study covering all provinces and territories , commissioned by the Toronto-based Society for Quality Education,  demonstrates that, with the exception of British Columbia, the spread of online learning and virtual schools has stalled and, for the vast majority of Canada’s 5 million K to 12 public school students, “the sky has limits.”  

Whether it’s Ontario or anywhere except for B.C., ministry of education authorities  still remain wedded to modes of teaching and learning circumscribed  by the ‘brick and mortar’ model of public schooling. 

After enjoying an initial advantage, Canada has been overtaken by the United States  in the rate of growth of online learning over the past two years.  In 2010-11, Canadian distance education plateaued at 207,096 students or 4.2% of all students.  While online learning continues to grow in British Columbia, the provincial leader with 88,000 enrolled students,  those gains are offset by lagging numbers in Ontario (50,000) and losses in other provinces such as New Brunswick and Quebec.

America’s leading private enterprise promoting online public schools,  K12 Inc., founded in 2000, has expanded into 28 different states, boasts of having delivered over one million online courses to students, and foresees skyrocketing  growth . A newly acquired Division of Pearson Education, Connections Education , now operates in 21 states and forecasts unlimited growth potential.  In late 2011, The New York Times also flagged the tremendous proliferation of full-day virtual charter schools.

For a backgrounder, click on  http://societyforqualityeducation.org/parents/theskyhaslimits

Online learning is now accepted as a critical component of the future in K-12 education. Most parents and students are ready for "blended learning" combining regular and online learning activities. So why the hesitancy to move forward?  To what extent is it simply an ossified school system, teacher contract constraints, or regulations setting learning boundaries?

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