Janis NettHats off to teachers, support staff and leaders who have quickly led an historic transition from bricks-and-mortar programming to online and home-school learning for Canadian students.

Considering the short timeline, adhering to the protocols set forth by political leaders, and the limited teaching resources, the educational community, students and families came together in the most professional and efficient manner.

Kudos also needs to be extended to provincial education ministers for giving school districts the autonomy and latitude to implement learning programs that best suit the diverse and unique needs of the students in their jurisdictions.

The one-size-fits-all approach rarely works, which is the whole premise behind school choice in a multicultural and pluralistic society.

Social freedoms and liberties are best preserved when we acknowledge that parents are the first educators of their children. We must also acknowledge that they have the right – and the duty – to seek out an education that best suits the individual needs of their children.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with this premise. Some beliefs are rooted in the idea that society’s freedoms and liberties are best preserved only when all children attend state-funded public schools, commonly dubbed as a great equalizer.

The COVID-19 pandemic, through the measures taken by our elected officials, has eliminated all choices except one: home education using online learning.

The recent abrupt transition to home and online learning wasn’t a choice made by many Canadian families. But under the dire circumstances, it has been accepted.

Once we’re through this pandemic, will home and online learning platforms become a desirable educational choice by students and families? Or will this type of learning be preferred only by governments and governing authorities?

Home education and online learning isn’t a new frontier in education. It’s a growing trend among students and parents who seek high-quality personalized learning with flexible schedules.

It’s a school choice that works well for some students, families and educators. People who choose this delivery method escape the traditional workday hours, allowing students and teachers to pursue other interests while receiving an education or earning an income.

Home education and online learning programs also have fiscal advantages. Obviously transportation, infrastructure and maintenance costs will be minimized, but so will human resources expenses.

Educators employed by school authorities with titles such as lead teacher, curriculum co-ordinators and learning specialists are tasked with providing support and guidance to classroom teachers in traditional settings. They could be viewed as redundant with the growth of online learning. So too could supervising managers in such roles of directors and associate superintendents.

Economic downturns force governments to seriously look at their spending and make changes that are contrary to conventional ways.

More than a month ago, Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced temporary layoffs for education assistants and support staff. When students aren’t in school, these jobs are redundant.

The layoffs meant $128 million in savings was redirected to Alberta’s COVID-19 response plan.

Coincidentally, the Edmonton Public School Board voted in February to cut instructional days, saving $2.7 million. The move was in response to Alberta government budget cuts.

COVID-19 has clearly caused a crisis in national and international economies, forcing governments to spend billions through subsidies and aid packages. But where does this money come from?

Post-pandemic policy measures will require every government department, agency and individual citizen to belt tighten.

The transition to home education and online learning has been tried and tested.

Is it perfect?

Obviously not. But what’s obvious is when students, teachers and support staff spend less time in school buildings, there are substantial savings.

Would it be unreasonable that governments reduce instructional days or mandate home education programming in a post-pandemic era in order to provide relief to a suffering economy?

The answer is unclear but be prepared for more unprecedented changes in our education system.

Janis Nett is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Janis is a Troy Media contributor. Why aren’t you?

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