Ontario’s first fully virtual high school hints at the future of public education

Providing students with choice on how they complete their education is a good thing, but only if necessary supports and resources are made available to ensure their success.

Last week, Peel District School Board (PDSB) announced the creation of Peel Virtual Secondary School—an entirely online public high school available to the region’s students this coming fall. Establishing a publicly funded virtual school is a huge move for PDSB. As Ontario’s second-largest school board, it could influence other boards to follow suit.

The impacts of almost two years of hybrid learning are becoming clear. More teachers are becoming overworked while struggling to support and engage with students.  Students are becoming isolated and failing to interact with their peers and teachers. Students, teachers, and parents alike report decreased mental wellbeing and increased stress levels.

Stability is essential, and hybrid learning doesn’t deliver. A fully virtual school may offer that necessary reliability.

For years, obtaining an online Ontario Secondary School Diploma was possible, but expensive. Secondary schools—like Ontario Virtual School, TVO ILC, and Virtual High School—all offer standard curriculum courses, but with a hefty price tag. Enrolling in a single online course can cost between $40 to $540, depending on the provider.

Creating Peel Virtual Secondary School, which offers public rather than private schooling, makes education financially accessible to Peel residents. Online education can also be a better option for students with disabilities or those who prefer self-guided learning.

Furthermore, the quality of online education will likely be much higher at Peel Virtual Secondary School. Teachers require comprehensive training and technical support to create an engaging online classroom, which an entirely virtual school will be well-positioned to provide. Funds typically used to maintain a brick-and-mortar school can instead purchase cutting-edge software to enhance the student experience.

While online learning presents many opportunities, however, the benefits of traditional in-person schooling are lost. School facilitates social interactions critical to the development of children and teenagers. Online learning reduces naturally occurring conversations and interactions between students, their peers, and their teachers. Students opting to remove themselves from this critical social arena could face significant consequences regarding social development.

But if Peel Virtual Secondary School is any indication, online schooling may eventually become the norm. To ensure the success and wellbeing of students and teachers alike, adequate funding and resources must be provided to all those engaged in a virtual environment.

Focused training can help educators create an online community promoting student interaction and teamwork while still offering the independence many students enjoy with online learning. Support structures must be put in place to prioritize the mental health and the well-being of students.

Online education is the way of the future. Investing in the quality of virtual public education is essential to help create a more equitable learning experience for all.

Leah is a third-year Concurrent Education and Global Development Studies student and The Journal’s Assistant Video Editor.

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