thumb-2021-05-010 This article is more than 3 years old

Doug Ford’s Government Wants TVO to ‘Commercialize’ Online Learning Content Designed for Ontario Schools

Teachers and advocacy groups call the plan a ‘privatization scheme’ that will undermine public education

Documents from Ontario’s Ministry of Education mandate TVO manage online learning in public schools, but simultaneously insisting the public agency “commercialize” content produced by its online learning subsidiary — something teachers are calling a “privatization scheme.”

In 2016, the Ministry of Education secured an $84.2 million license with D2L, one of Canada’s most prominent online learning companies, on an agreement extendable to 2028 to host distance eLearning classes. The classes would be hosted by TVO’s longstanding distance education program, the Independent Learning Centre (ILC).

But “confidential” plans show the Ministry of Education wants to put TVO in charge of “central coordination” of all future eLearning offerings — instead of school boards.

Ministry of Education

People For Education Executive Director Annie Kidder said this could be a problem as TVO’s ILC programming is different from school board-led online learning.

“The significant step that’s being taken now is to actually put the control of online learning under the auspices of the Independent Learning Centre, removing online learning from where it mostly has been in Ontario — mostly run by school boards,” Kidder told PressProgress.

“There’s no real teacher learning or limit on class sizes with the ILC currently. That’s a huge 100% change.”

This year’s Grant For Student Needs (GSN) funding document, in addition to introducing a real cut to school board funding, also expanded TVO’s eLearning provision.

The GSN document states: “TVO and TFO are currently developing English-language and French-language elementary digital learning course packs, aligned with curriculum expectations for each subject in Grades 1-8 and Kindergarten.”

Ministry of Education

It also mandates TVO develop a “global strategy” to “market” Ontario online courses for sale.

The slideshow notes this change will help TVO “generate revenue.” It mandates TVO develop a “global strategy” to “market” Ontario online courses.

Ministry of Education

A year-end memo from the Ministry to TVO previously instructed the public agency to “explore opportunities to generate revenue including additional opportunities to commercialize and export its educational and digital products in other jurisdictions.”

Kidder said Ford’s government is looking to turn a profit on public education and TVO isn’t as accountable as public boards are.

“You’re talking about running a profit out of education,” Kidder said. “What one wonders is that because the ILC is not the government, it’s not accountable in the same way — what will limit the monetization they’re looking at?”

TVO’s most recent multiyear plan lists its intent to offer courses to private schools and to international students to boost revenues. The plan reads TVO will “expand ILC revenues” by:

“• Expanding international growth with an increased focus on packaging/bulk purchase and territory up-front commitments to help stabilize our ILC business revenue streams;

• Continue to expand private school, post-secondary and school board partnerships via custom package bundling and turn-key service offerings.”

A spokesperson for TVO told PressProgress it would make its K-12 offerings available free on its website in the coming months. But, the spokesperson also said:

“To continue to provide digital learning products and current affairs journalism in a financially sustainable manner, one of our objectives is to grow ILC revenues internationally by expanding secondary school course offerings and attracting new students. This international revenue generation partly offsets the cost of delivering our courses here in Ontario.”

Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association president Liz Stuart said the change appears to be an effort to erode and privatize public education.

“This privatization scheme undermines publicly funded education and the exemplary efforts of teachers and education workers who have gone above and beyond since the pandemic began to support the students in their care,” Stuart told PressProgress.

“COVID-19 and the Ford government’s mismanaged response has taken an extraordinary toll on our schools and communities.”

Ontario’s Ministry of Education did not respond to requests for comment.


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