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Online Schooling: The Road (Best) Not Taken?

I was part of the “agree” side for the debate topic “online schooling is detrimental to the academic and social development of students.”

Some of our main debate points were:

  • Online schooling impedes socialization, which is particularly harmful for students in primary and elementary school
  • Online schooling is particularly troublesome for our at-risk students who depend on schools as their “safe place”
  • Online schooling has only limited options for PAA and other hands-on classes
  • Online schooling leads to social isolation, which is detrimental to students with mental health challenges
  • Online schooling increases students’ screen time which has adverse health effects
  • Online schooling serves to exacerbate the digital divide

The “disagree” side had the following points:

  • Online schooling provides flexible learning opportunities
  • Online schooling allows students to take greater ownership over their own learning
  • Online schooling more readily allows for interest-based learning
  • Online schooling allows students to develop and improve their own work habits

The kicker, however, was that the “disagree” side was arguing that online schooling is a good supplement to face to face school. This is where the debate got a bit murky; the two sides were arguing two different things. Taking a class or two online is no big deal and, in some cases (especially in small, rural schools) necessary; however, when students are enrolled in online school full time, some challenges can definitely arise.

The COVID-19 pandemic pulled students from all over the world into online schooling. The transition was quick and messy, and teachers were not given adequate opportunity to prepare; I don’t think anyone would argue that these months of online learning served as an exemplar for “good” teaching. However, now that COVID is (mostly) behind us, full-time online schooling is becoming more and more prominent. All across Saskatchewan, school divisions have their own separate online schools. The question is: Does online schooling detrimentally impact students’ social and academic development?

There is no denying that online schooling is a great option for some. These include students who have great work habits, are self-motivated and take initiative. The infographic below is one that Prairie South School Division’s Virtual School put on their registration page. It delineates what makes a student a successful online learner.

Online schooling is also a good option for students involved in competitive sports and who have health issues that take them out of school frequently. The allowance for self-paced learning allows this segment of the population the flexibility that they need to be successful.

However, there are also many obstacles to students being successful within the online realm. The main issue of online schooling is that it makes it easier for students to simply disappear. This is especially a concern for our at-risk youth. Without face-to-face relationships anchoring these students, encouraging them to attend their brick and mortar schools, students are at risk of simply vanishing.

Below is a quote of one Toronto teacher’s experience with online schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There were many kids who just weren’t there. They didn’t come once. They disappeared and were impossible to track down. They had no contact information. It was mind-boggling. Those kids were just slipping through the cracks.” 

Brandy Humes via Toronto Life

These “vanishing” students are still a major concern for online schools, even after COVID-19. Although, as I stated, I think online schools provide a wonderful opportunity for some students, I think it also serves to harm our vulnerable youth.

Lana Parker, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Windsor, says succinctly in this Global News article, “When you have a school system that already has issues with marginalization and systemic challenges for certain students, I don’t think the solution is to provide the student a choice ‘to not be there.’ I think the solution is to improve the education system.” Indeed, absenteeism and high drop-out rates are the issues that plague online schooling, and are also ones that directly impact students’ futures.

Schools provide youth with much more than just academics; school is so many different things to so many different students. For some, school is a place where they will eat their only full meal in a day. For others, school is where they are able to talk to the only adult role model in their life. For others, still, school is a place they can participate in extra-curricular activities and thereby learn valuable life skills.

Indeed, within a society that is so polarized and turbulent, physical schools provide a safe space for students to develop academically and socially. To back up this claim, according to this article, “Online learning does not replace the complex, relationship-oriented learning and social environment in schools.” It is undeniable: face to face schools provide an intangible “IT” factor that online schooling simply cannot replicate.

In other words, online schooling is not a substitute to the brick and mortar school; even the students are in agreement. While online schooling does provide a meaningful function to a small portion of the student population, this is just a small minority.

Therefore, in closing, it is my belief that online learning is indeed the road (best) not taken.


One Reply to “Online Schooling: The Road (Best) Not Taken?”

  1. Reblogged this on Gerchew's Blah posts and commented:
    Gertrude Bear on July 2, 2022 at 7:39 pm said:
    Debate 8 Online education is detrimental to the social and academic development of children.
    In Canada is there too much digital access their play places and people still using the Internet with electronics. I agree there is a degree of health impacts and concerns. For example, distractions are a great concern for elementary students with too much electronic Internet use. This in turn creates issues of isolation and it also leads to lack of outdoor physical activity. Especially for elementary students. It is also said to be an imperfect substitute for online learning. There is a level of inequality for online users. I see the level of distractions with my own grandchildren period it is becoming a bad habit to be so engrossed by the internet period i also agree with the disagree side because of the areas of flexibility, small groups, time, fewer distractions/ are key to adult learning online I’m not versed are informed for students and their children because they do not see it first hand or daily


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