Following the axiom “everything old is new again,” the Government of Saskatachewan announced the establishment of a treasury board crown corporation to oversee centralized online education. Decades ago, the Ministry of Education decommissioned the provincial correspondence school, leaving divisions like Horizon and Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, which serve Humboldt and area, to evolve their own distance learning programs. Now the pendulum has swung, and the province is planning to create the Saskatchewan Distance Learning Corporation and base it on the Sun West School Division’s Distance Learning Centre..
The move has the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation concerned about the lack of consultation with the province's teachers.
“It seems government is proceeding blindly. The announcement and aggressive timelines of this project suggests a lack of awareness of the current state of public education in Saskatchewan. I hear the word “triage” regularly from teachers. It’s clear to me kids aren’t getting the help they need. There are very real and urgent issues that need to be addressed now,” says STF President Samantha Becotte in a media release.
She states that the Federation and partner agencies raised concerns a month ago. The partners, which includes Saskatchewan School Boards Association, the League of Educational Administrators, Directors and Superintendents, and the Saskatchewan Association of School Business Officials, have not yet received a response, says the STF statement.
“I don’t understand why the Minister is disregarding our advice on such an extremely complicated and important issue. What’s the rush? And further, why is he hiring an out-of-province consultant with a passion for privatization rather than working with the education partners here who know our Saskatchewan communities?”
The decision effectively takes the development work school divisions have done over the years, and places the onus on the new entity for delivery of distance education to the entire province.
"The DLC is a well-established operation with skilled staff, robust technology, and a wealth of courses to provide a ready-made foundation for the centralized model," Education Minister Dustin Duncan said in a government release. "This acquisition ensures that all students will have access to high quality online education regardless of where they are living in the province."
All Saskatchewan students will have access to the DLC and as with in-classroom education, it will be free. Most students enrolled are expected to be from public school divisions but separate school divisions, the Conseil des Écoles fransaskoises and qualified independent schools may continue to be able to offer online learning via an application process to the Ministry of Education.
One of the STF’s concerns is that the new distance learning enterprise will siphon funds away from what it considers to be chronically underfunded schools.
“First and foremost, teachers and parents want students across the province to succeed,” says Becotte. “This is a large and complicated project that is being rushed. If it fails, students are the ones who will hurt. The government’s track record is poor when it comes to introducing centralized IT systems. Look no further than the losses experienced with the SHA and eHealth.”