Toronto-area school board sorts online classes alphabetically, raising concerns of racial segregation

Perhaps a more neutral approach like the date of birth?

In a kindergarten virtual classroom at the York Region District School Board, half the children have the surname Wong, and two of them have the same first name.

It’s a similar story in other online classes that are filled with children sharing the same last names after the board, north of Toronto, separated its roughly 30,000 virtual learners into four areas and assigned them to classes alphabetically by surname. The board only later discovered it had inadvertently created groups that did not reflect the racially diverse nature of this part of the province.

The issue at York highlights the challenges school boards face launching virtual classes after the Ontario government let families choose between in-class learning and online instruction. Parents in a Facebook group have raised concerns about the lack of diversity and described classes in which all the students have the surname Chen or Cao. In other instances, half the class are Khans or Wongs.

Clayton La Touche, an associate director at the board, said he understood parents’ concerns but that redoing the classes in a different way would have delayed the start of the school year. It is not out of the ordinary to have more than one student in a classroom with the same surname, but he acknowledged that having an entire class is unusual.

“It is an unintended impact of the decision,” Mr. La Touche said. “However, although we certainly respect and would wish to have had mixed classes in that way, if it is a matter of mixing names versus forming classes in time to be able to have a reasonable start, in my belief it is a measured risk.

“At the end of the day, what we have is our students in front of teachers.”

At other school boards, including Peel and Toronto, an effort was made to keep virtual learners with their neighbourhood peers as much as possible, or to mix students.

One parent, whose son’s last name is Wong, said 15 of the 29 kindergarten children in his son’s York Region online class have the same surname. His classroom last year had only one other Wong out of 28 students. The parent, who lives in Markham, asked that his first name not be used to keep his child’s identity private.

The parent said it was comical when he first saw it. Then he wondered why the board was segregating and creating a lack of diversity in the class.

He hastened to add that the family likes the teacher and the class is going pretty well. It was just that he felt the whole process was not ideal.

Another parent, Michael She, who lives in Richmond Hill, said his two children’s virtual classrooms have students with various last names, but that is not the case for some of his friends. “For fairness, a lot of parents would have wished, at a minimum, for a random distribution to keep it more representative of the York Region area,” Mr. She said.

Several school boards in the Greater Toronto Area, including York, have started virtual school more slowly than in-person classes because of families switching to online learning at the last minute amid a rise in COVID-19 cases. Some students still do not have assigned teachers.

Mr. La Touche said scrapping the process because of the alphabetical listing would have further delayed the start of the school year for thousands of students. “Not to minimize the concern in any way, however, the greater interest was in ensuring that we had a successful start and as timely a start as possible,” he said.

Vidya Shah, an assistant professor in education at York University, said considering that the provincial government gave boards only about a month to organize students for in-person and virtual schooling, mistakes were inevitable.

Prof. Shah said that for some students who were perhaps the only ones with a particular surname at their regular school, being grouped by surname “can be quite honouring and create a sense of community automatically.”

“In other ways,” she added, “it goes against the very heart of public education, which is to have very diverse spaces with lots of students, with various identities that can come together and learn and take risks together.”

In non-pandemic times, class lists are typically done in collaboration with teachers and school administrators. Darren Campbell, president of the elementary teachers’ union in York Region, said many factors go into forming classes, including paying attention to the learning needs of students.

“This method [the alphabetical grouping] is not one teachers would feel creates the most successful class communities in a school,” Mr. Campbell said, adding: “It’s far from ideal.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-toronto-area-school-board-sorts-online-classes-alphabetically-raising/

 

Ontario families living in more racialized neighbourhoods less likely to send children back into classroom, Globe analysis finds

Interesting possible explanations for a counter-intuitive effect, as I had thought that it would be those with higher socioeconomic status that would be best able to support remote learning:

As some of Ontario’s largest school boards scramble to accommodate a mass migration to remote learning, an analysis by The Globe and Mail shows families living in more racialized neighbourhoods are less likely to send their children back into the classroom.

The Globe analyzed the percentage of remote learners for hundreds of schools across the Greater Toronto Area, identifying patterns related to income, race, density of housing and COVID-19 cases. The data reveals regional and neighbourhood differences, suggesting the government’s back-to-school approach of offering a choice between online learning and in-class instruction could be forcing people with the fewest resources into unfamiliar learning environments.

“The numbers of parents opting for online due to concerns about the back-to-school plan is understandable to protect their child, but the potential impact on educational inequities between in-school and out-of-school learning for students is deeply concerning,” said Carol Campbell, an associate professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. She added that early evidence indicates the students with the most negative experiences of remote learning in the spring were students living in low income households, students with special education needs and those learning the English language.

The four boards analyzed by the Globe – Toronto District, Peel, York Region and Hamilton-Wentworth – represent more than a quarter of the student population in the province. Ontario’s approach is similar to Alberta’s, while the B.C. government has allowed boards to offer the remote learning option to families.

The Globe’s analysis revealed that 78 per cent of families in Toronto’s high-income neighbourhoods chose to send their children to the classroom compared with 64 per cent of families in low-income neighbourhoods. Similarly, more than 80 per cent of families in Toronto neighbourhoods with a low-racialized population opted for in-class learning, and only 60 per cent of families who live in high-racialized neighbourhoods did the same.

The Globe’s analysis divided neighbourhoods into four quarters, respectively, based on their median household income and percentage of visible minorities in the neighbourhood. The demographic and economic information was based on the 2016 census.

Kwame McKenzie, chief executive of the Wellesley Institute, a Toronto think-tank, said family decisions are often influenced by neighbours and friends.

“Complex social trends can be less complex than we think because people are connected,” Dr. McKenzie said. “Yes, there are the stats [on COVID-19] but do not underestimate the importance of social connections. We look and see what other people are doing and talk to people before we make decisions.”

At Crescent Town Elementary School in east Toronto, about half of students have opted for online learning this year. The school is in the Taylor-Massey neighbourhood, which is low-income and has a medium-to-high visible minority presence. About 77 per cent of residents live in apartment buildings that are more than five-storeys tall, which Razia Rashed, a parent who sits on Crescent Town’s school council, said is a major contributing factor. Living in a dense neighbourhood has made families nervous, she said: they’re worried about community transmission, especially if they have to ride the elevator twice daily to take their children to and from school.

Much of the neighbourhood is composed of immigrants from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, and Ms. Rashed said many parents in the community have more closely followed news and stories from relatives in their countries of origin, rather than domestically, about the toll COVID-19 has taken (the worst outbreaks in South Asia have been in India and Bangladesh).

“How it is back home matters,” Ms. Rashed said.

In Toronto, online learners are also over-represented in low income neighbourhoods, in contrast to Brampton – a hot spot for COVID-19 and one of the country’s most diverse cities – where high income neighbourhoods have the lowest rates of in-class learning. Many parents are working from home and are opting to keep their children there as well. Brad Teeter, the principal of Eldorado Public School in Brampton, said students also live in multi-generational homes with elderly grandparents who are more vulnerable to infection.

His school, part of the Peel District School Board, is in a high-income neighbourhood with a large East Indian population and just over 40 per cent of students have opted for virtual learning.

In his conversations with families, Mr. Teeter lets them know about the health and safety measures in his school, and he knows parents are wrestling with difficult decisions. The Peel board has delayed the start of its live online school to the week of Sept. 21 after seeing enrolment jump to 64,000 students, an increase of more than 10,000 in the past week.

“We would love to see every kid in the building … [but] there’s still, I think, a lot of COVID fears that are happening and parents are making decisions in the best interests of their families and safety for the kids and each member of the family,” Mr. Teeter said.

Satinder Gill, whose three children attend school in Brampton, said the decision to have them learn online was difficult. She and her husband did not want to compromise the health of her in-laws, who live with relatives next door, or her parents living close by. In her Punjabi Indian culture, she said that the “extended family plays a very big role.”

“Our kids are exposed to many people in the family and we love that about our culture. That makes these types of decisions very difficult to make,” Ms. Gill said.

Sonia Reid, whose daughter attends Heart Lake Secondary School, also in Brampton, said the family’s plans called for her daughter to attend school in-person, but then Ms. Reid grew worried as she watched people in her area become less cautious, coupled with a rise in COVID-19 cases. She said that among her group of friends, only one has decided to send their child into the classroom.

“All those little things, and watching the numbers go up, I definitely knew that starting in September, I had to switch her to completely online,” Ms. Reid said.

Overall, a significant portion of Ontario students are not returning to the classroom. That number is most stark in Brampton, where only 56 per cent of elementary students will be in school, compared with Hamilton where 83 per cent of elementary children will learn in classrooms. In Toronto, meanwhile, preliminary data showed that 69 per cent of elementary children and 75 per cent of high school students are returning to the classroom. The Toronto and Peel boards have said this week that thousands of families have been switching to online learning in recent days amid rising COVID-19 rates.

In Ontario, families have been given a choice between in-person and virtual learning. Alberta school districts, too, have offered families an online option. The B.C. government said school districts have flexibility to provide remote learning options, but there is confusion among parents and school officials as to what that means. In Montreal, school districts did not provide a school-by-school enrolment breakdown of online and in-class learning. Online options in Quebec are only for children with medical exemptions and those forced to stay home because of illness or quarantine. The English school board said it had given about 400 medical exemptions that allow children to receive online learning among 19,600 students. The Centre de services scolaire de Montréal has 363 students online among its 77,500 students.

How race, income and ‘opportunity hoarding’ will shape Canada’s back-to-school season

Good long read on how the impact of COVID-19 will likely increase inequality further:

Two weeks before vice-principal Brandon Zoras was to welcome a group of students back to the classrooms at Toronto’s Westview Centennial Secondary School, a message appeared in his LinkedIn inbox from a stranger.

“Hi Brandon, hope you are doing well! I am looking for an experienced TDSB Grade 11 chemistry tutor to coach my son online only (due to social distancing) – to start right away. Please let me know if that is something you (or someone you know) can help my son with. Best regards.”

Irritated, Mr. Zoras groaned and deleted it without replying.

Westview has one of the largest Black student populations in the country and sits in the northwest corridor of Toronto, which has become the epicentre for COVID-19 infections. Many students live in cramped housing, have parents who are essential workers and rely on public transit to get around, all things that contribute to the high infection rate – which is 10 times that of the least-infected parts of the city. The average annual income for residents in the area is $27,984 – half of what it is for Toronto as a whole.

“It makes my heart hurt for the families who can’t afford a tutor or who can’t afford all these additional things,” said Mr. Zoras, a science educator.

Since he began working as an educator 11 years ago, he has seen the way public education funding has been diminished, how families in the system have found ways to privatize parts of their children’s schooling to get what they want. Education advocates say those efforts are making things less equitable for everyone else.

Every year, parents across the country lobby to get their children into advanced-placement classes, buy houses in neighbourhoods that will give them access to coveted schools and fundraise on the school council to bring in technology and high-level arts programming.

Now, with the return to school amidst a global pandemic, those efforts to secure the best for their children, known in sociology as “opportunity hoarding,” have become more overt. The confidence many had in the public-education system has been ripped apart because of reopening plans and it seems no amount of fundraising, private meetings with principals or school council strategizing can bring about the changes many are seeking for a safe return to school.

The result is some of the most privileged public-school families are opting for distance education, hiring personal tutors and forming private learning pods – decisions that are ostensibly made in the best interests of their children, but which will likely cause major rifts across race and class. Those in lower-income communities are also choosing remote learning because they have elderly relatives living with them who are vulnerable to getting sick, they feel a heightened threat from COVID-19 because they are in areas with the highest infection rates and the buildings in which they live pose challenges to getting to school on time in a pandemic.

That families on both ends of the socio-economic spectrum are opting for remote learning exposes cracks that already existed in the system. There’s a threat the most privileged will pull out to customize their own education since they can afford to, while others who are fearful of sending their children back to school but cannot pay for private help are becoming test subjects for a new realm of online learning. As plans are pulled together haphazardly, there’s a concern the divide will deepen.

This week, school boards in Toronto, Peel Region and Halton Region released the results of parent surveys that show a sizable portion of students will not be in classes this fall: 30 per cent of elementary and 22 per cent of high school students for Toronto; 33 per cent combined for Peel; and 29 per cent elementary and 15 per cent high school for Halton. A portion of households didn’t respond and school staff will be reaching out to them directly, which could change these figures.

At Thorncliffe Park Public School, in a community that has long been a landing pad for newcomers and where the median household income is $46,595, 38 per cent of families surveyed say they’ll do remote learning this fall.

Munira Khilji, a mother of two in Thorncliffe Park, said many parents she knows chose this option because they live in high-rises and don’t want to endure waits of an hour or longer just to take the elevator while pandemic-related capacity limits are in place – and they worry about physical distancing in such a cramped space.

The issue is most apparent in Ontario, where families have been given a clear choice between in-person and remote learning, but it’s forcing a reckoning in many other parts of the country. In Alberta, 28 per cent of students in Edmonton’s public school board have chosen remote learning. In British Columbia, Education Minister Rob Fleming has said that school districts have the flexibility to provide remote learning options, but there is confusion among parents and school officials as to what that will mean and whether students will remain enrolled in their home schools.

“What COVID has done once again is expose the stark inequities in our system and the realities that families in marginalized communities have to navigate,” said Jeewan Chanicka, the former superintendent of equity, anti-racism and anti-oppression at the Toronto District School Board. “These families also know that their communities are going to be hit the hardest. They are behaving in a way where they’re trying to save their children’s lives.”

Some worry the shift out of the classroom could have devastating long-term consequences: If parents come to appreciate the increased attention their child gets from a teacher in a pod with just four other students, they might opt to continue this post-pandemic and permanently withdraw from a system whose funding is determined by head count.

“Where I worry a bit is in particular for those of privilege; if they’re pulling their children out, whether or not they will return to public education, I don’t know,” Mr. Chanicka said. “My hope is that yes, this is a blip because of the pandemic.”

COVID-19 has presented an opportunity to rethink how Canada operates homeless shelters and long-term care – will the same be true for schools, or will navigating the pandemic only further fracture the system?

Before Marty Menard even had a daughter, he and his wife had done their homework on which school they wanted her to attend. Wortley Road Public School in London, Ont., a well-regarded K-8 school known for its small student population and very involved parent community, stood out. When Mr. Menard’s wife was in her third trimester, they bought a house in Wortley Village, which the Canadian Institute of Planners dubbed the best neighbourhood in Canada in 2013, so they’d be in the catchment area for the school they determined was their first and only choice.

In his daughter’s second year there, Mr. Menard enthusiastically joined many of the various parent committees and even became co-chair of the school council, helping organize fundraisers, the breakfast program and cultural celebrations.

When schools shut down in mid-March, Mr. Menard turned to a private tutoring program to offer his daughter an hour of instruction a day and also found a few hours each week to use online resources from the Khan Academy to help boost her development. But after a few months, his daughter said she was lonely and Mr. Menard knew this couldn’t continue into September. A learning pod seemed like the best solution: The risk of his daughter being exposed to the novel coronavirus would be lower than it might be in a packed classroom, but she would still enjoy social interaction. On social media, he found a few other parents and a provincially certified teacher who will lead the pod, but is struggling to find a space that will host them without greatly increasing the costs, which he estimates will be about $500 to $750 a month.

With school already under way in some provinces and just a few weeks away in others, the scramble to clear those logistical hurdles has sent plenty of parents who have chosen the same option as Mr. Menard into a frenzy.

As August wore on, the panic among parents in the Learning Pods – Canada Facebook group was palpable. Thousands from Vancouver Island to Halifax, but mostly in Ontario, had flocked to the group to find others in their neighbourhood to pod up with, to find a teacher to hire, or to share their story about turning to this option to protect an immunocompromised member of their family.

They solicited advice on everything from costs (“Can folks share how much is a reasonable salary to offer a teacher for a pod of four?” asked one mom in Hamilton) to insurance (“My insurance company approved extended insurance for each child in my pod. They will not cover communicable disease transmission. Has anyone else figured out how to get around this? Co-op among parents to share the responsibility? Corporation to reduce risk?” wrote another in Waterloo, Ont.). Some pods will rotate between a group of households where parents share teaching duties; others will be situated in rented spaces with lots of technology and resources provided and come with a cost of up to a few thousand dollars a month.

On and offline, the conversation on learning pods often leads to bigger questions of equity: are they classist? Do they further the divide between the haves and the have nots? Shouldn’t parents with enough privilege to put their children in a learning pod harness it to lobby the government to make classrooms safe for all children?

Those debates have arisen in Mr. Menard’s own marriage. He describes himself as a “lefty” and a proponent of the public school system, which he says has been steadily defunded for years – but still, he and his wife have decided that given the pandemic and the government’s plans, this is the best option for his family.

“Nothing is going to marginalize kids more than people like me who could afford a learning pod,” he says. “The bottom line as a parent is I still have to put my kid’s interests above every other point of view or political point of view that I have.”

It’s a rationale sociologist Margaret Hagerman encountered again and again when she spent time with affluent white families in the American Midwest as part of research for her book White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America. She observed a phenomenon she dubs “the conundrum of privilege”: Parents who identify as progressives, who care about equity, who may have taken their children to the climate strike or hung up a Black Lives Matter poster in their window, don’t think twice about what it means to give their children advantages that others don’t have access to. They want to raise their children in a just society, but they’ve used their privilege to work against that very goal.

“I think we need to reconfigure what we mean when we say we are doing the best for our child or being the best parent,” she said. “I don’t actually think that advocating for your own kid when that harms other people is the best version of anything.”

When parents talk about the gifts they want to give their children for the future, she likes to challenge them: “Don’t you want your kid to live in a society with less racial violence and with less inequality and social conflict and social problems and suffering?” she asks. “If you could do things now that would provide that different future for your child and the other children around him, it’s kind of philosophical, but I just think that that’s a compelling argument.”

While some who have opted for pods defend their choice with the argument that this will make classrooms less populous and therefore safer for students who do attend in person, the net effect isn’t the reduced class sizes parents, epidemiologists and public health experts have recommended. Rather, classes will be combined and likely grow in size because the government has not funded lower class sizes.

In Edmonton, the city’s public school board said nearly 29,000 students, or roughly 28 per cent of its entire enrolment, had opted for online learning as of Wednesday, though the board stressed that those numbers could change. To accommodate them, it has assigned 775 teachers to those online students. The board has hired an additional 100 teachers on temporary contracts, but board chair Trisha Estabrooks said the shift has meant decreased in-class enrolment hasn’t led to a decrease in class sizes.

“Even though we have 30 per cent of our students choosing to learn online, the reality is that doesn’t decrease the overall class size either, because we also need to have teachers in place to teach those online cohorts,” said Ms. Estabrooks, who acknowledged that in many classrooms, physical distancing is difficult, if not impossible.

Atiba Ralph, a single Black father, said he has heard so far that all of his daughter’s friends will return to in-person classes this fall; he hadn’t even heard of learning pods but said they sounded like “a pretty smart idea,” albeit one that was out of reach for him.

“It probably happened with the people that are in a higher tax bracket,” he said. “I have a little bit more financial problems.”

The COVID-19 threat is present every time he steps out of his apartment in Toronto: He lives in the Jane and Finch area, one of the most-infected in the city, and knows of two Black people – one a neighbour of his mother, another a friend of a friend – who died of COVID-19 earlier this year. Public health data collected by the city from mid-May to mid-July showed Black people had the highest share of COVID-19 infections.

Recognizing that some neighbourhoods have been much harder hit than others by COVID-19, the Toronto District School Board is directing extra funds and capping class sizes at abo

ut 80 schools in those areas, most of which are in the northwest corner of the city.

Alice Romo, an education advocate with the Latinx, Afro-Latin-America, Abya Yala Education Network, says she worries about the way children from low-income neighbourhoods will fall behind this year if they are educated at home: They’ll be less engaged, it will be more difficult for them to finish their homework and, crucially, many will miss out on all the non-academic parts of school that keep low-income communities afloat, such as breakfast and lunch programs.

“We’re definitely going to see this a few years down the road. There will be more of an inequality gap,” she said.

Those who withdraw from the system may think the decision only affects their household, “the more you shift the role of education towards families and away from public schools, the more inequality you’re going to have,” says Andrew Franklin-Hall, a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto who studies ethics.

For some students, school might be the only environment where they are exposed to peers from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds; in a learning pod, just like in a private school, opportunities for that exposure are limited.

“When parents are suddenly forced to make this kind of decision, naturally they turn to the resources they have, which is their own friends, their own community,” he said. “This is not the sort of thing that people feel comfortable articulating, because they don’t want to say, ’Well, I don’t trust the people who are different than me or I don’t trust the people who aren’t as well off or have a different race.’”

Before the pandemic forced a crisis in the education system, many school boards had committed to addressing systemic racism and inequity by re-evaluating programs, such as French immersion (which attracts a higher proportion of affluent, white students) and streaming (which routinely put Black children on a path to applied courses, which limit their options after graduation), that have disadvantaged students from low-income and racialized communities. Now with educators focused on the basics of opening schools, reimagining the system seems impractical, if not impossible.

In June, Stephanie Brembridge, a Black mother in Toronto whose son attends a public Catholic school, reached out to the school principal to ask whether she could add an item to the agenda for the next parent council meeting of the year: She wanted to discuss what the predominantly white school could do to better help Black and Indigenous students succeed.

Her faith in the school had already been tested. Her son, Trusten, had been suspended several times – once for apparently saying “an inappropriate word” – though the school was never able to tell Ms. Brembridge what that word was. With the help of an advocacy group that works with Black parents, she was able to get a few of those suspensions overturned (data collected at school boards across the country show that Black students are suspended and expelled at a disproportionate rate).

When it came time for the parent council meeting, which was held over Zoom, Ms. Brembridge noticed her item was at the very end of the agenda. She grew anxious as an hour and a half flew by, while the other parents (all but one of them were white) discussed which teachers were retiring, how they might safely plan a social function in the summer and other matters Ms. Brembridge believed to be far less pressing than hers.

“Okay, I think that’s it,” someone said, ready to adjourn the meeting. Ms. Brembridge, surprised, unmuted her microphone and reminded them she still hadn’t spoken. She was told she had three minutes and could see parents starting to leave the chat. “I‘m not going speak until I can get everybody’s full attention,” she said. Her item was moved to the agenda for the next meeting – three months later, in September.

As a teacher in Toronto, Kelly Iggers has been exposed to the type of parental advocacy that’s aimed at “achieving supports that will benefit one’s own child.” When she learned Ontario’s back-to-school plan, released in late July, would not include reduced class sizes, she started a petition arguing in favour of them that netted more than 250,000 signatures across the province and evolved into a campaign with parents, educators, doctors and others discussing and planning in closed groups, including a WhatsApp chat.

“This issue of advocating for a safe and equitable return to school, it’s not about advocating for one’s own community or one’s own child,” she said. “This only works if we’re advocating for something that’s going to support everyone.”

This moment of reckoning in Ontario comes at a time when Alberta is moving toward a model that could heighten class and race disparities within the public system. For now, it’s the only province to have charter schools, which are independently run, non-profit public schools that have a greater degree of autonomy than a normal public school, allowing them to create programming that’s only for girls, or for the academically gifted.

Earlier this week, the Choice in Education Act took effect that, among other things, makes it easier to apply for and create a charter school. Now, a group wanting to establish a new charter school can bypass the local school board and apply directly to the government.

Calgary mom Dallas Hall’s son started Grade 4 last month at Connect Charter School after switching from a local public school. Ms. Hall said she likes the type of education he’s receiving, which includes experiential learning and outdoor learning. She also said the school has less bureaucracy than a traditional public school system – the same features that are making private school or learning pods an attractive option for parents elsewhere. Ms. Hall likes the idea of parents having choice in education. “They should have a voice. Their voice should be welcome,” she said.

Ms. Iggers said she didn’t want to vilify parents who are choosing private options, but says this shift out of the classroom has the potential to cause long-term damage.

“It’s prompting families with the means to do so to leave the system,” she said. And when they leave, “they [take] with them what are often the most powerful voices to advocate for a properly funded education system.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-how-race-income-and-opportunity-hoarding-will-shape-canadas-back/

Colleges, universities expecting large financial losses from drop in international students

We shall see over the next month or so when IRCC study permit data for July and August becomes available (July data should be out sometime next week):

Colleges and universities say they’re anticipating financial losses possibly in the billions of dollars due to a drop in international enrolments caused by the global pandemic.

The government of Canada last week took additional steps to make it easier for students to study online from abroad, but the national associations that represent universities and colleges say the losses are still likely to be significant. The associations are lobbying the federal government to make money available for postsecondary institutions.

Denise Amyot, president of Colleges and Institutes Canada, said a mid-June survey showed colleges expected their new international enrolments to fall by two-thirds this term, from about 90,000 to 30,000. It’s still unclear whether those fears will be realized, as data are not yet available, but colleges are hoping the impact will be less than expected, Ms. Amyot said.

“Administrators are worried right now. They’re worried about the financial impact. They’re worried they’ll have fewer programs to offer domestic students,” she said. “Every student counts right now. I can’t think of a better way to put it.”

International students are crucial to university finances because they represent half of all tuition revenue. The impact of the pandemic may be more pronounced for colleges, though, as they tend to offer shorter programs that result in more frequent student turnover.

International students contribute nearly $22-billion a year to the Canadian economy, according to federal government estimates, with billions flowing from postsecondary tuition fees alone. Ms. Amyot said an analysis conducted on behalf of the colleges estimates between $1.8-billion and $3.5-billion in lost revenue, depending on the length and severity of the pandemic.

Universities Canada said it does not yet know the extent of losses across the sector. Some universities, including the University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta, said international acceptances are in line with previous years, but numbers aren’t firm as students still have a month to withdraw. And the picture may be quite different from one institution to another.

“We are in active discussions with federal government departments about how we can work together to stabilize from the potential loss of international students,” said Cindy McIntyre, assistant director, international relations at Universities Canada.

Education is primarily a provincial responsibility. Ontario provided an additional $25-million to postsecondary institutions early in the pandemic to cope with some of the additional associated costs. Quebec gave $75-million to institutions and made more money available in student assistance. But the national postsecondary associations are aiming to persuade the federal government to contribute some pandemic-specific funds to the sector, as they did with the $2-billion recently announced for elementary and high schools.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISEDC) said Wednesday that Ottawa is having conversations with the provinces and territories regarding the types of supports that are needed. And Ottawa has since taken steps to ease some of the concerns of institutions, including a two-step process to speed approval for those who want to start their studies online. It has also allowed U.S. students to cross the border as long as they quarantine for 14 days on arrival and increased federal student financial aid.

At the moment only those with permits issued before mid-March whose travel is deemed essential and those from the U.S. are allowed to enter Canada.

Last week, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced measures that will allow students to complete one-year programs online without being penalized on the length of their postgraduate work permit. But the decision many institutions are waiting on is whether other international students with visas processed after mid-March will be allowed to enter the country. At the moment provincial and federal health officials are assessing plans submitted by institutions for the safe isolation of arriving students.

“It’s now too late to get international students here for the start of the fall semester, but many of our institutions still have an interest in seeing international students arrive over the course of the fall,” Ms. McIntyre said.

When asked whether Ottawa would step in with more funding to address the shortfall, ISEDC did not answer the question directly, but pointed to changes the government has already brought in, including $450-million in funding for academic research. IRCC also cited previous measures to help international students.

“Recently, changes were brought forward to give international students more certainty about their ability to enter Canada once travel restrictions are eased in Canada and their home countries,” said Mike Jones, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino. “Students who have submitted a complete application will receive priority processing to make sure they can begin their classes while outside Canada, and complete up to 50 per cent of their program from abroad if they can’t travel sooner.”

There were more than 700,000 international students at all levels in 2018, a number that has grown rapidly over the past decade. Normally tens of thousands of new students would be arriving in September, but not this year. At the moment only those with permits issued before mid-March are allowed to enter Canada.

Gautham Kolluri, who runs an international student recruitment company, said students and families are apprehensive about starting an expensive degree at a time when it’s unclear when they will be able to travel to Canada. Many international students pay tuition fees of $20,000 or more, which many plan to partly fund by working part-time while studying.

Mr. Kolluri said he has a few hundred clients who have been accepted by Canadian institutions but he believes a majority will either defer admission or drop those programs in the next month. He thinks only a quarter will pursue their programs online from their home countries.

“They will lose networking opportunities and they will lose the Canadian experience they want, so they will delay and wait and see,” Mr. Kolluri said. “Investing $30,000 without knowing what will happen is a big gamble.”

He said Canada remains a top destination country, as political developments in the U.S. have made it a less desirable option.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-colleges-universities-expecting-large-financial-losses-from-drop-in/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=Morning%20Update&utm_content=2020-9-3_6&utm_term=Morning%20Update:%20U.S.%20cable%20company%20Altice%20and%20Rogers%20table%20$10.3-billion%20bid%20for%20Cogeco&utm_campaign=newsletter&cu_id=%2BTx9qGuxCF9REU6kNldjGJtpVUGIVB3Y

Under Cover of the Pandemic, the Modi Administration Has Removed Chapters on Democracy, Secularism, and Citizenship From Textbooks

Of note:

As students across India logged in to their virtual classrooms last month, many of them no doubt felt their prayers had been answered.

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), India’s largesteducation board, announced in July that it had cut this year’s syllabus by 30 percent. It hopes that the move will relieve stressed-out students who have lost valuable hours in the classroom to COVID-19 and are trying to adapt to online learning.

But not everyone is pleased. The move has fueled controversy over the fact that government-run schools no longer have to teach chapters on democratic rights, secularism, federalism, and citizenship, among other topics. These concepts lie at the core of the Indian Constitution but have at times come into conflict with the Hindu-majoritarian ideology of the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party’s well-established interest in using the education system to spread its own unitary brand of Indian identity has further raised concerns that the omissions are politically motivated.


After a victory in last year’s general elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP began rolling out a set of controversial citizenship policies that critics have called unconstitutional and anti-Muslim and that have been condemned for promoting an ethnoreligious idea of India. The country has since witnessed a series of large-scale national protests against the measures, including the Citizenship Amendment Act—a law designed to aid refugees from neighboring countries but which excludes Muslims—and a new National Register of Citizens. When combined, the two measures could end up disenfranchising large numbers of India’s Muslim population. (That’s the point, Home Minister Amit Shah, has admitted.) The protests were the largest public challenge to Modi’s rule since he first came to power in 2014.

When chapters like “Popular Struggles and Movements” and “Democracy and Diversity” were removed from the Class 10 political science syllabus, stakeholders and opposition groups were quick to frame the cuts as being in line with the other steps for which Modi has been  criticized. The move advances the vision of an “exclusivist, theocratic, intolerant, fascistic nation,” Sitaram Yechury, the leader of Communist Party of India (Marxist), wrote on Facebook in July. His party later called for the cuts to be rescinded, saying they hurt “secular democratic India’s future.”

The Education Ministry has denied any political motives behind the move, which it said was backed by a consensus of policymakers. It also issued a clarification on July 8 calling the cuts a “one-time measure only.”

It is hard to separate the syllabus cuts from the current political climate.

For practitioners, though, it is hard to separate the syllabus cuts from the current political climate. “It’s clear that this was a very selective exercise,” Anita Rampal, a professor and former dean of the education department at Delhi University, told me in July. “The deleted chapters relate directly to policies that are currently being questioned in the public sphere—and that’s important because not many issues usually are. These are topics the government finds inconvenient.”

Adding weight to such interpretations are other activities the government has undertaken during the pandemic. According to Human Rights Watch, New Delhi has stifled dissent and arrested protesters. The government has also come under fire for refusing to release academics and social activists from jail, including the 80-year-old poet Varavara Rao, who was kept in cramped prison conditions on charges of inciting caste-based violenceunder India’s draconian Unlawful Activities Act. He ended up contracting the coronavirus.

Meanwhile requests from opposition leaders to resume parliament or allow for videoconferencing have fallen on deaf ears. In turn, the Indian National Congress, the main opposition party, has accused the government of trying to avoid parliamentary scrutiny. Add to this a distracted mainstream media with little interest in covering education policy minutiae and educators like Rampal have little to be hopeful about. “It’s a populist move that few people have the time or inclination to question,” she said. “Once deleted, I can’t see these chapters coming back in any meaningful way.”

The Education Ministry maintains that the recent move is in students’ best interests. Before the pandemic, too, ministry officials spoke about the need to “rationalize” the syllabus and unburden students from the lengthy slog. But if that is the goal, the cuts have undermined it. In an op-ed, Krishna Kumar, a former director of the National Council of Education Research and Training (the organization responsible for designing the curriculum), argued that the cuts have left some remaining topics “incomprehensible.” He points out that students will now learn about the constitution without learning about India’s federal structure.

The deleted chapters were also among those that offered relief from the rote learning and factual regurgitation that are endemic to the Indian education system.

 “These chapters allowed students to raise questions about social justice and engage in critical analysis,” Rampal said. “Removing these chapters sends a clear signal about what they believe is right for children to be learning.”

The CBSE has said teachers can still teach these topics if they wish. But that is unlikely to happen. “Teachers are evaluated on how well their students score in the board exams and are penalized if they finish the syllabus late,” a New Delhi secondary-school teacher told me. “When you’re already under so much pressure, there’s no incentive to be creative or deviate from the highly centralized teaching calendar.” This system has bred a culture of survival and removed any space for teachers to “really think and talk about educating children’s minds,” the teacher said. “It’s why so many great teachers have left.”

Policymakers must know that topics that are not going to be tested in board exams are unlikely to be covered in class, said Pradyumna Jairam, a former CBSE board social sciences teacher and researcher at King’s College London. “That’s why it is crucial to look at which chapters have been deleted and to ask why they don’t want these chapters to be taught,” he added.

Jairam’s answer is that the deleted chapters dealt with uncomfortable periods of Indian history, like the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 and lower-caste struggles for emancipation. The chapter on popular movements, for example, drew a strong parallel between the assertion of Dalit rights and the civil rights movement in 1960s America, he said. “I taught this chapter, so I know how effective it was. It encouraged students to reflect on how privilege still operates in society, as well as on their own privilege, which may have sheltered them from these uncomfortable truths.”


But Jairam’s interpretation begs the question of why the BJP might have a problem with students learning about human rights, democracy, local government, and civil liberties.

The answer lies in the ruling party’s ties to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a volunteer paramilitary organization, and its deeply embedded Hindutva ideology. “The individualistic values promoted by liberal democracy is anathema to their view of Hindu traditions,” said Christophe Jaffrelot, a political scientist specializing in South Asia. He noted that Shah, Modi’s home minister, “argued that India should not follow the Western notion of human rights. Nor does the RSS allow for any room for elections or public debate within the organization.”

Education reform has long been a priority of the RSS. The organization itself operates a network of schools through its education wing, the Vidya Bharati. It views changing curriculum content in particular as a key component of nation building and erasing foreign elements from India’s Nehruvian teaching methods. When the BJP was last in power in the early 2000s, it appointed RSS members to top education positions and launched a national curriculum framework under the slogan “Indianize, nationalize, and spiritualize.”

The way history textbooks have already been rewritten in BJP-ruled states can provide clues to the kind of agenda the current administration is pursuing. In Rajasthan, for example, the state board removed all mentions of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister and champion of a diverse and secular India, while adding multiple references to V.D. Savarkar, the father of Hindutva ideology. Meanwhile B.R. Ambedkar is labeled as a “Hindu social reformer” despite his later conversion to Buddhism. Critics claim his seminal key role in fighting for Dalit emancipation was also minimized.

Given this background, “it’s actually surprising that central board textbooks were not rewritten sooner,” Jaffrelot said. In 1999, the last time the BJP was in power and when Murli Manohar Joshi was the minister for human resources development, “this was a priority of the party, and they began making changes straight away.”

In that way, there is a feeling among some political observers that the BJP has left its most divisive policies for its second term in power. With the Supreme Court’s independence under question, a brutal crackdown on dissenting voices from academic and civil society, and a feeble opposition, the path has been cleared for the government to pursue its most controversial objectives, starting with the revocation of Kashmir’s special status a year ago and leading, most recently, to reconfiguring textbooks.

“Now is the time for them to do whatever they want, because who can say anything against them?” Jaffrelot said.

Source: Under Cover of the Pandemic, the Modi Administration Has Removed Chapters on Democracy, Secularism, and Citizenship From Textbooks

They were once directed to take applied courses. Now they say ending the discriminatory practice of streaming is ‘long overdue’

Credit due to the Ford government for ending this long standing practice. While likely well-intentioned, like so many good intentions, bias (explicit and implicit) along with implementation, resulted in systemic discrimination and racism;

By the time she reached the end of Grade 8, Toluwanimi Oseivhi had no doubt whatsoever about what stream she would pick for high school. Her marks were excellent, she knew which courses she loved, and her parents who immigrated from Nigeria “definitely” expected her to go to university.

So she picked all academic courses and, to her total shock and bemusement, her teacher told her she had to take applied classes instead.

“She actually changed the forms and put down all applied courses,” said Oseivhi, recalling it was “demoralizing” to be told she was not equipped to handle academic courses despite her efforts and great performance.

“To have that choice made for me, it made me feel small especially as a child of immigrants. But it’s also motivational. It builds your confidence and the desire to do better and prove everyone wrong.”

With her insistence and the advocacy of her parents who were also educators, Oseivhi ended up getting into the academic stream. She graduated high school in 2009, enrolled at the University of Toronto and later got a master’s degree in education from York University.

Oseivhi called the Grade 9 streaming system, which on Monday the Ontario government announced will be cancelled, discriminatory toward students from both poor and racialized communities.

“I do know that it does happen to a lot of Black and brown kids in the system,” she said.

Ontario is the only province in Canada that still divides students into the hands-on “applied” or university/college-track “academic” streams starting in Grade 9, a practice Education Minister Stephen Lecce called systemic and racist. He said the practice needs to end in order to give racialized students “a fair chance at success.”

For years education advocates have called the streaming system into question, pointing out that Black and Indigenous students as well as those from low-income neighbourhoods are overrepresented in the applied stream. Being left out of the academic stream impacts many of these students and limits their options for post-secondary education.

In 2015, People for Education, a Toronto-based advocacy and research group, published a report that was critical of the streaming system. The report indicated that Grade 8 was too early for kids to be deciding on courses that are potentially going to determine their life careers, and recommended delaying such decisions until later in high school.

People for Education’s executive director Annie Kidder told the Star the province’s decision to scrap the streaming system is a step in the right direction, but just one in the process of understanding systemic racism and its different facets. Government needs to look at practices that need to continue to change in order to give children a fair opportunity to excel in their education.

“We need to look at ourselves and understand how unconscious bias can have an impact on other people,” she said, noting society should have the same high expectations of its students regardless of their families’ income or racial backgrounds.

“When you divide students, when you group students apart from each other, it has a disproportionate effect on students who were already disadvantaged.”

Bernisha Thomas knows first hand how being streamed into applied or academic courses “has little to do” with a student’s ability to excel in those subjects. She grew up in Scarborough and at 14 when she finished Grade 8 and it was time to choose her high school courses, she remembers being told that academic was for those going to university while applied was for those going to college and into the workforce.

“I didn’t even know what that meant. I had no idea what I wanted to do,” Thomas said. She said she was a straight-A student and was confused when it was decided for her to go into the applied stream, where she was often sent into the resource class for extra help.

“It made me question myself. It made me think that I was not as smart as I always thought I was heading into high school.”

She said streaming is a form of discrimination because students who are sent into the general/applied track instead of the academic/advanced one are “made to feel like subpar or average, that there’s nothing really special about you.”

Thomas said she ultimately ended up going to Centennial College afterwards, simply because she was made to believe that maybe university would be too hard for her. She took a project management program, where one of her general education diploma teachers once told her she should be in university instead.

“It was the first time since high school that somebody had told me I was good enough and capable enough,” she said.

Years later, it was quite telling to her when her son was at the same stage in Grade 8 to make the choice and the school decided to put him into the applied stream and send him to the resource class for extra help.

“My son never needed extra help,” Thomas said, noting her son just finished his first year in college, studying marketing. He also applied and has been accepted into a joint college and university program at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

“I’ve really never seen any change in the school system between when I went and when he went until this week when they announced they’re getting rid of streaming. It’s long overdue.”

Desmond Cole’s book sparked deep conversations among teachers about racism. Where is the introspection in media?

I expect part of the reason has to do with the shrinking newsrooms and employment insecurity compared to the stable number of teachers and job security that provide more time for these discussions:

If there’s one thing The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole makes clear, it is how integral racism is to Canadian life. It winds its way through the justice system, military decisions, child welfare, the education system and of course, the media, and leaves in its wake a trail of destruction for many, but particularly cruelly for Black, First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

The burden of educating society always falls on those with the least — not just the least amount of wealth but the least social capital, too. The people society is accustomed to ignoring have to make themselves heard, be taken seriously and then force a change in behaviour. This is gargantuan cross-generational work, and Cole’s national bestseller, much like Robyn Maynard’s Policing Black Lives, is also an ode to that resistance.

One example of that resistance, the work of influencing change, that The Skin We’re In inspired, was a series of conversations among Ontario teachers.

Colinda Clyne, an Anishinaabe woman and curriculum lead at the Upper Grand District School Board, had read the book and appreciated how Cole wove together colonial history and anti-Indigenous racism with anti-Black racism. “There are many great resources to support one or the other, but not often together, and rarely with the Canadian context,” she said. Late in March, she sent out feelers to see if fellow teachers would be interested in a discussion based on this book, expecting a discussion involving about 10 people.

Instead, she ended up hosting a weekly panel titled “Anti-Racist Educator Reads” on VoicEd Radio, an educational broadcast/podcast site, with more than 500 listeners on the fifth and final week, May 13, that featured Cole himself. (For those who missed the discussions, the episodes are online.)

The people tuning in, Clyne said, were “mostly white educators with thoughtful reflections on the learning and unlearning they were doing with the book and our conversations, and the actions they were willing to commit to. It gave me a boost of hope for this anti-racism work in a way that I have not felt in a long time.”

The discussions ran deep, including the impact of police presence in schools, how Canada’s “humble colonialism” plays out in society and schools, what ignorance on racism looks like and the easily dismissed but vital role of anger to bring about change.

A sketch note by educator Debbie Donksy of a panel discussion of Anti-Racist Educator Reads that aired April 22 on VoicEd Radio in which curriculum lead Colinda Clyne hosted Camille Logan, a superintendent of education, and Kevin Rambally, a social worker and former chair of Pride Toronto.

I listened with envy to these conversations between Clyne and other leaders in anti-racism education from various Ontario school boards such as Debbie Donsky, Pamala Agawa, Melissa Wilson, Tisha Nelson and Camille Logan.

The education system is nowhere near where it should be in terms of nurturing all students with care. But teachers are at least engaging in these critical and uncomfortable reflections. Clyne also seeks an action that teachers can commit to. While I’m not one to pat people for being at the “at least it’s a start!” stage, I raise it to make the point that other sectors are not even there.

A case in point is my own industry. Journalists are duty bound to demand accountability — but this is rarely focused inward. Race and attendant issues are an extra or an “inclusion” issue, maybe even as a new-fangled lens of discussion that could bring in new audiences. It’s why solutions look like hiring a journalist of colour or two, using images of racialized people to suggest representation or speaking to a few sources of colour.

As a journalist, Cole makes extensive references to media in his book. Of course, he mentions his fallout with the Toronto Star. His blunt reporting on CBC and CTV reporters’ rude — and chiefly arrogant — questioning of Indigenous elders and activists at a 2017 press conference on the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada (MMIWG), should at least make every journalist squirm.

But I don’t hear of critical inquiry-based collective reflections in newsrooms based on that or on Cole’s highly contextualized reporting of Black Lives Matter shutting down the Pride Parade in 2016. For instance, “What role did white supremacy play in guiding our coverage on it?”

Or, “Did media, with our overwhelming whiteness, have the authority or even a balanced perspective in declaring the MMIWG inquiry’s conclusion of genocide as wrong?” Or, “Whose voices did we privilege in the Wet’suwet’en pipeline protests?”

No, journalists are supposed to be a bunch of eye-rolling cynics, the know-it-alls above self-reflection. There are, after all, “real” crises to be dealt with every day. Discussions on racism are usually held among journalists of colour, on the sidelines to the main business of journalism. In newsroom after newsroom, these journalists tell me, they struggle to be heard.

That explains why it’s taken weeks after Canada was hit by the global pandemic for media to start waking up to who was most badly hit — Indigenous and racialized people — and that too after relentless advocacy by rights groups and by the bravery of those risking everything to tell their stories.

In education, too, one of the issues raised through the VoicEd Radio episodes, “are the barriers constantly put in place in our systems, a big one being denial of white supremacy and that folks ‘aren’t ready’ to have the conversations and do the work of anti-racism,” Clyne said.

It’s worth reflecting, across sectors, on who these folks who aren’t ready are, and why, when lives are at stake, we feel compelled to wait for them at all.

Source: Shree ParadkarDesmond Cole’s book sparked deep conversations among teachers about racism. Where is the introspection in media?

Leveraging international education for a globally connected and prosperous Canada

The education industry view. Will need a major rethink of their business model’s dependence on international students. Their business case would benefit from more rigorous evaluations of the longer-term contributions, not just the more short-term contributions while at college or university:

Canadians understand the importance of welcoming individuals from all around the world to our country. Canada is a desirable destination for trade, travel, study and immigration. We know that our prosperity and international competitiveness rely on being open to people and opportunity from every corner of the world.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis without modern equivalent. The actions Canada takes post-emergency can set the foundation for a sustainable growth and recovery with global opportunity in mind.

We believe that Canada’s colleges and universities– and the network of business and community leaders who came to Canada as international students– can play an essential role in responding to this crisis, and in helping Canada recover and thrive in a post-COVID-19 world.

Universities and colleges are already key drivers of Canada’s international agenda. In 2019 alone, international students contributed over $21.6 billion to the Canadian economy, more than the value of automotive parts, lumber, or aircraft exports. These contributions are made in communities all across the country, and support employment and innovation in every province and territory.

The more than 600,000 international students at the postsecondary level also bring new perspectives, ideas, and valuable networks abroad. International students become highly trained individuals who contribute to their local Canadian economies, and then either immigrate to Canada and join our labour market or return home with an appreciation for what Canada has to offer as a business partner.

Canada’s response to the economic impact of the crisis to date has been commendable. Still, we need to ensure international students feel welcome and supported so that Canadian PSE remains competitive in these uncertain times and we can continue to be leaders in a global marketplace.

Canada needs:

Responsive and informed study permit processing — Ease of obtaining a study permit is a key factor in international student decision making. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has already shown a lot of flexibility in responding to the pandemic. To remain competitive, we need IRCC to be nimble and to allow, on an exceptional basis, international students to start programs online this fall without jeopardizing their eligibility for a post-graduate work permit.

Strengthening IRCC’s capacity to facilitate business resumption — Once health and travel restrictions start to be lifted in Canada and around the world, we must ensure that there is capacity to address large volumes of new study permit applications, quickly. Measures must be put in place now to ensure that disruptions to processing for the fall intake will be minimized.

Two-way mobility and international cooperation — As part of comprehensive federal government support to the Canadian postsecondary education sector, it is also imperative to maintain our commitment to a national outbound mobility program for Canadian postsecondary students to support Canada’s goals around trade diversification, skills development and the future of work.

We’ve seen colleges and universities across Canada stepping up and supporting their communities in this time of need, donating medical equipment and retooling processes to manufacture more. We’ve seen our students, recent graduates, in medical fields rushing to be of service in support of our health care systems. With the right investments, universities and colleges can also continue to play a critical role in building skills and increasing global competitiveness, helping Canada thrive in a post-COVID-19 world. Education opens doors, for students and for Canadian companies — across all sectors — looking to do business internationally. Leveraging international education, and the people-to-people ties it generates is a sound investment towards a more globally connected and prosperous Canada.

Source: Leveraging international education for a globally connected and prosperous Canada

As universities move classes online, let’s not forget the digital divide

This article, like so many, would benefit from some hard data to back up the assertions. Are there any studies on the number of university students without a computer? Without web access? Are international students less likely to have computers and web access than Canadian ones? Unlikely, given how they remain in contact with family.

Not to say that there are not digital and other divides but more than anecdotal evidence required before advocating for greater resources:

The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us that in times of turmoil, decisions made for the greater good can have collateral impacts. It’s becoming evident that efforts to contain the virus and limit social distancing are increasing precarity for some people, especially those already in socio-economically disadvantaged positions. Universities are not immune to these collateral impacts, and last week’s decision by most Canadian universities to finish the current term by moving pedagogical components online is one of those times when a small segment of students will be neglected in a move meant to benefit all of them.

The decision is a show of resilience and solidarity by our higher education institutions. But the problem is the digital divide among students. Even in our great cosmopolitan country, not everyone has equal access to the web and all its resources. This digital divide was on the radar a few years ago, with a push to bring broadband to remote constituencies. But less attention has been devoted to the divide in urban settings, and especially within the hubs of knowledge that are universities.

Yet, as is becoming apparent to education professionals like me, the digital divide exists among our students, and, like everywhere else, it reflects deeper socio-economic, gender and race inequalities. Existing disparities influence who are the “haves” and “have-nots” of information and communication technology. Our universities and student bodies are a microcosm of broader society; they reflect society’s divisions. Though digital disadvantage affects Canadian students, we also have a class of students, often from abroad and often women, with little to no economic safety net in Canada, who can be more cut off from the privileges of our affluent and digitally connected world. Though they are not alone in being affected by the digital divide, they are a group of students at risk of being more hurt by the online migration of teaching components.

We have made the right decision, driven by financial reasoning and the pursuit of diversity, to open our higher education institutions to increasing numbers of international students, including from the developing world. Yet we have not always reflected on the hardships many from the Global South face once they arrive in Canada, including high tuition, lack of funding during the summertime, and their need to support dependents here and abroad, which is often the case.

A number of our students cannot afford the technology that allows full access to university resources. Some students do not have data plans or connection speeds that would allow them to follow online courses, take part in virtual meetings on platforms such as Zoom, or have access to the suite of online resources the university has for research.

A 2018 American study showed that students often have the basics such as a cellphone, but 20 percent of students had difficulties accessing information because of hardware, data limits and connectivity issues. Underprivileged groups were likelier to fall within this percentage. For some, their reality is far from the privileged student we often imagine, the one who can go home and be highly connected to all the digital university has to offer.

Do we continue to provide online courses to the many, knowingly excluding the few? How do we provide grades in a manner that is fair to all, knowing the constraints that some of our less privileged students will face in an all-digital environment?

The decision on the part of universities to move all teaching components online is thus leading to heartbreaking decisions – some of the hardest decisions I have had to make in my career. These include: Do we continue to provide online courses to the many, knowingly excluding the few? How do we provide grades in a manner that is fair to all, knowing the constraints that some of our less privileged students will face in an all-digital environment? There are no simple answers. Most professors are adopting a two-tiered strategy: teach online to the many, offer alternatives to the others. In doing so, we are unwillingly reproducing the digital divide and the deeper inequalities that undergird it.

We are working hard to make sure no one will be left behind, but remedial solutions are always second-rate. We can send summaries of online discussions to students who cannot join; we can offer to take questions by email, text or phone. But they pale next to discussions online or recordings of entire lectures.

And, of course, campus libraries, labs remain open – for now – in many cases. Some people will ask: “Couldn’t these students go to campus to avail themselves of wi-fi there or research course material on university equipment?” But with people being told to stay off campuses, this is tantamount to asking our already underprivileged students to accept greater risks to their health and their family’s health so they can keep up with connected students. I have worked in parts of Africa (Great Lakes region, Francophone West Africa) over the last 15 years, and I have seen how the burden of risk is often shifted to those who are most disadvantaged.

Universities have other alternatives, from adopting one low-tech strategy for all, assigning term papers and exams that are less reliant on access to online resources, for example, to simply cancelling the term. Different strategies are being discussed. But for now, courses continue, papers are still due and exams will take place – most of this happening electronically. Digital divide or not, students need to keep accessing information. And they will in all likelihood continue to do so as we begin talking about Spring and Summer terms going online.

To be sure, not all university policies related to COVID-19 have neglected those who face structural discrimination. Many institutions have taken charge of students in residence who cannot return home, though, as of writing, universities are being increasingly more strict about who they agree to keep on campus. But the decision to steadfastly move ahead with an online end of semester is one that reminds us instead that these great institutions of higher knowledge, which we often take be built on a mission of equality and access to all, remain built on important divides and forms of discrimination.

There is little we can do immediately to address these structural inequalities in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. But eventually we must reflect on divides, digital and other, that are woven into the very functioning of our higher education, to address this discrimination and close the digital divide.

A first step would be to cultivate a greater awareness of the structural biases our students face. Universities talk of inclusion and like to show that students are welcome, but they fall short of understanding the real constraints some students live with, and how some of these are grounded in socio-economic, gender and race inequalities.

Measures could then be put in place, for example, to fund laptops, high speed home Internet or cellular data packages for low income students living off campus. The creation of robust funding packages throughout the year could help support international students from the Global South.

The coronavirus crisis reminds us that the use of technological tools can exacerbate exclusion and inequality. Once we have cared for our sick and moved beyond the immediate emergency, we should use our momentum for action to strive for more structurally inclusive higher education institutions.

Source: As universities move classes online, let’s not forget the digital divide

Peel board review team finds ‘racism and discrimination’ and slams administrators for inaction

Of note:

Three reviewers sent in to investigate the Peel school board heard “painful and difficult” stories of racism — including how white supremacists attend meetings — and have reprimanded senior leaders for being “paralyzed by inaction” to make changes.

The reviewers detail how racism disproportionately impacts Black students, from lower enrolment in academic classes to higher suspension rates — and often for dubious reasons such as “wearing a hoodie,” do-rags or even hoop earrings, says the reviewers’ report, obtained by the Star.

Their report, to be released Friday, also covers issues of equity, poor leadership and a lack of diverse staffing, including a dearth of Black guidance counsellors in the province’s second largest board.

“The accounts of racism and discrimination documented in the report are deeply troubling and will not be tolerated,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement. “After decades of inaction, I want to see swift implementation of these recommendations to drive the change racialized and other discriminated students deserve.”

Lecce said “students and the community have demanded change and I want to assure them that we will monitor board implementation and hold them to account to deliver this transformational change that will put every student on a path to success.”

The reviewers — Ena Chadha, Sue Herbert and Shawn Richard — were called in to probe the board late last year as it struggled with allegations of racism, dysfunction and troubling trustee conduct. Patrick Case — a human rights lawyer and assistant deputy education minister — oversaw and assisted in the investigation.

In their final report, the review team found that “some teachers use any excuse to exclude Black students from the classroom and some principals use any excuse to suspend Black students from schools.”

Black students comprise 10.2 per cent of high school students, but make up 22.5 per cent of those suspended — and many of those suspensions don’t meet standards set by the Ministry of Education, they found.

“During our review, Black youth told us that they feel like they are held to higher standards, and different codes of conduct in comparison to white or other racialized students,” and that they are disproportionately streamed into classes that don’t give them the requirements for university, the report says.

“It is untenable that, for many years, the board has been unaware of this terrible state of affairs.”

Black students are the target of “degrading, inappropriate and racist comments” made by teachers and principals, and often hear the N-word uttered by other students without punishment, the report says.

They heard about one teacher who commented that a Black student “will be a drug dealer just like his dad.”

The level of enrolment of Black students in specialized arts schools or International Baccalaureate programs is “abysmal,” and disproportionately low for students of Latin American heritage, the reviewers found.

Islamophobia is also a concern, and the reviewers said they “were provided with French curriculum materials that were clearly Islamophobic, conveyed blatant hostility to the Muslim community and an ignorance of the basic tenants of Islam.”

In speaking to Muslim students and community members, the reviewers said they heard of many incidents of Islamophobia. “Citing conflicts referable to prayers in (Peel) schools and the presence of white supremacists at a meeting of the board of trustees, we heard from the students, families, and educators of the real need for an Islamic co-ordinator to support Muslim students.”

The reviewers acknowledged that trustees and administrators agreed there is anti-Black racism in the board, yet have done nothing to address it.

Teachers and principals “escalate trivial issues unnecessarily…involving police for minor issues leading to arrests and stigmatization of Black children at a very young age,” the report said. Black children, it added, “are leaving the (Peel board) because it is not safe for them.”

The report also says that “approximately 25 per cent of (staff) are racialized, which is almost the opposite of the demographics of the student body.”

In their interim report released in January, the three reviewers said they had already “consistently heard painful accounts of traumatic experiences in schools and school communities.”

The “narratives shared with us signal a profound lack of respect in relationships, demonstrated by stories of marginalization, discrimination, differential behaviour, and harassment.”

The reviewers began their work amid turmoil at the board and after a trustee referred to the diverse McCrimmon Middle School as “McCriminal,” and after a senior administrator in charge of anti-discrimination launched a human rights complaint.

Their report demands that the board “immediately issue a responsive and respectful public apology for the mishandling” of the McCrimmon incident — and it also noted that other diverse schools are known by disparaging nicknames, including Central Peel being referred to as “Central Africa,” and Meadowvale as “Meadow Jail.”

The report also directs the boards to create a four-year plan to improve enrolment and achievement of Black and other racialized students.

Among staff, the reviewers found a “culture of fear” — which past reviews of other boards, including the Toronto public, have also uncovered — as well as poor communications with the community. Trustees, who are bitterly divided, were criticized for often overstepping their roles in hiring and promotions.

“The (Peel District School Board) is facing a crisis of confidence,” they wrote.

Among their recommendations: hire a mediator to broker peace among trustees, as well as between trustees and senior administrators; improved trustee training; and also to “retain the services of an integrity commissioner who has demonstrated experience in, and knowledge of, human rights principles.”

The Peel District School Board has more than 155,000 students in Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon schools, and about 17,000 staff members.

It is highly diverse, and among students the three largest groups are South Asian (45 per cent), white (17 per cent) and Black (10 per cent).

The reviewers heard from more than 300 people, including 115 in-person interviews.

They also noted that there are issues of “factional violence amongst South Asian communities and, in particular, in relation to male youths of the north Brampton Punjabi community” that teachers and administrators “either ignored or were indifferent to the violence.”

Drug and alcohol abuse is also a concern in the South Asian community.

Jamil Jivani, Ontario’s newly named advocate for community opportunities, said the minister is taking action on the recommendations and that is “an important step toward building a public school system that gives each child — regardless of race, background, or postal code — a fair start in life.”

He said “with the announcement of 29 new ministerial directives, the Government of Ontario is positioning the (Peel board) to immediately strengthen its governance and leadership practices to focus its attention on ensuring that all (Peel) students can realize their full potential in classrooms and schools where they are supported, respected, valued and welcomed.”

Source: Peel board review team finds ‘racism and discrimination’ and slams administrators for inaction