New Brunswick — Starting this year in New Brunswick, when school’s out for summer, school’s out forever. In an effort to address the structural deficit and growing debt, The Manatee has learned that the Gallant government intends to announce the closing of all public schools in the province over the next 5 years. The public school system will be replaced with a “distance learning” model where students attend class from home over video conference. Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Serge Rousselle said this measure is a way to drastically reduce the over $1 billion spent on education in the province each year.
“When we started to look at the savings from closing some underused schools in the province with Policy 409, it quickly became clear how much we would save by closing them all,” said Rousselle. “High-speed Internet is now nearly ubiquitous, and online courses like those from the Khan Academy are a worldwide phenomenon. We intend to leverage 21st-century technology to dramatically transform how education is delivered, and become a world leader in this model.”
Starting next year, the government will begin to phase out selected schools in favour of classes delivered via video conference to students residing at home using computers, tablets or smartphones. Students will interact with teachers through instant messenger, SMS or video chat, and tests will be standardized, administered online and graded automatically by computer systems. The new delivery model will be piloted first with high school students, eventually moving to the middle and elementary school grades by 2020.
“One teacher can have a class of dozens, as long as the proper support is in place for them,” said Rousselle. “Over time, this will reduce the labour costs as a single teacher teaches a classroom 5 to 6 times larger than they teach now. Distraction from their peers and issues with bullying will be virtually eliminated. No more schoolbuses — English, French, or otherwise! And, we think students are going to love the ‘no dress code’ policy. No pants? No problem!”
Rousselle maintains that the new online delivery model will not stunt students’ social development, at least not any more than it already has been affected by today’s technological distractions. Plus, the province is introducing innovative methods to mitigate the reduced socialization. “Instead of outdoor recess, students will be able to play games together on a virtual playground,” explained Rousselle. “We are also looking at the possibility of using virtual reality technology to deliver an immersive, lifelike playground experience. It’s really cutting-edge stuff.”
When asked about who will mind the students at home to ensure they are working on their studies, Rousselle said that will become the role of the parents and families. “Over time, parents have expected the schools to become babysitters for their children from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily — literally a ‘nanny state.’ We’re getting out of the ‘childcare’ business and transferring that responsibility back to the parents and the students.”
This move is causing concern with advocates of traditional education models. Some even have questioned the legality of this move, considering the Charter protections for distinct educational institutions for English and French students. Rousselle, a lawyer by profession, dismisses those concerns. “The Constitution guarantees institutions but doesn’t specify that they have to be physical ‘brick and mortar’ structures. From now on, the educational institutions will exist, but they will be totally digital … like Max Headroom — remember him?”
Rousselle concluded, “Ten years from now, we’ll look back at our current classrooms the same way that we today look back at the one-room schoolhouse. It’s time for government to get out of the babysitting business and focus just on the delivery of educational curricula. Parents, the kids are now your problem; good luck with that.”