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Ontario high school students grapple with possible graduation ceremony cancellations

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TORONTO —
Urmila Persaud spent months picturing herself walking across a stage to collect her high-school diploma in front of friends and family.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has replaced that vision with a big question mark as schools and boards across Canada grapple with how to handle graduation ceremonies because of COVID-19 restrictions.

For soon-to-be graduates like Persaud, this typically joyous milestone is fraught with uncertainty about whether they’ll get a chance to celebrate the end of their high school chapter, and the murky future that lies ahead.

“I imagined and dreamed about my graduation for months,” the 17-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., said. “And before March break, I had no idea that might be the last time I see my class in person.”

It’s not just graduation — Persaud had imagined moving into a dorm and starting university come September, but that picture has been supplanted by questions about whether she’ll have to take her first post-secondary courses online from her parents’ home.

But the ceremony is a particular sore spot — a final hurrah with her tight-knit class of just 17 students.

“We pretty much grew up together,” she said. “Our graduation would be our last time together — all together — in person. And now that might not happen.”

The French-language board to which Persaud’s school belongs cancelled graduation dances but has yet to make a formal decree on graduation ceremonies, a spokeswoman said.

A spokeswoman for Ontario’s education minister said a decision on such ceremonies would be left with the school boards, and the province’s largest — the Toronto District School Board — announced Friday that all of its graduation ceremonies would be either cancelled or postponed “until at least the end of the school year.”

“As there are still many unknowns, the rescheduling of postponed events will be handled at the school level, depending on local circumstances,” reads a letter to parents from TDSB director of education John Malloy.

In Prince Edward Island, meanwhile, Education Minister Brad Trivers said graduation ceremonies at the province’s 15 secondary schools will be held the week of June 22, along with other end-of-year activities.

And a spokeswoman said that if commencement ceremonies in New Brunswicks go ahead, they will be different than usual as the Department of Education looks for “positive alternatives to traditional graduation ceremonies that would meet the restrictions recommended by Public Health.”

So too for 17-year-old Trinity Parchment of Barrie, Ont., who learned on Friday that her school wouldn’t be holding a graduation ceremony, but would try to do something to mark the occasion online.

“But it just takes away the whole idea,” she said. “My friends and I were planning on decorating our caps and just making it a whole thing. It’s really upsetting. It’s like one moment, you’re just getting an extra long March break. And then the next moment, everything’s cancelled.”

Parchment said that while her grades have gone up since classes moved online — something she attributes to a lack of distractions — the school experience has gotten far harder.

“I don’t get to wake up and have purpose. You know what I mean?” she said. “Like, I don’t wake up excited for something new, excited to see my friends. I just wake up to wake up, and it’s sad.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2020.

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Perry Trimper halts re-election bid in wake of comments about homeless people

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Perry Trimper, the MHA for Lake Melville, will not seek re-election in the next general provincial election, and has withdrawn from some of his legislative duties.

Trimper had been the confirmed Liberal candidate for the district, but in an email announcement Monday morning, said he was withdrawing his nomination.

“With progress and change comes challenge. I feel I have advanced the challenges before Lake Melville as far as I can take them at this time,” Trimper said in the email.

Trimper also said he is resigning from his role as parliamentary secretary to the Education and Finance departments, as well as his position as a special advisor on climate change to the premier. Trimper was named to those roles in August.

His announcement comes on the heels of controversial comments about homeless people in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. In the wake of a video showing a homeless Inuk man in the town being arrested, handcuffed and then thrown to the ground by a municipal enforcement officer, on Oct. 20 Trimper said homeless people were “choosing” a risky lifestyle.

Trimper has since apologized for those comments. Two days later, on Thursday, Premier Andrew Furey hinted that Trimper was re-evaluating his political future in the wake of his words.

“I found those comments troubling, and the language that was selected was inappropriate,” said Furey.

In Monday’s statement Trimper said he will continue to support the people of Lake Melville, and not comment further publicly on the matter.

“There is still plenty of work to do, and I will do what I can to assist,” he said in the statement.

Trimper resigned from cabinet in September 2019, after he inadvertently left comments on a voicemail to an Innu Nation staff member, describing the Innu as playing “the race card.” Trimper apologized at the time for that recording.

On Friday, Eugene Hart, chief of the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation, called for Trimper to step down over the two incidents.

Trimper was first elected to the House of Assembly in 2015.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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‘Hey, it’s 2020’ — COVID-19 shows need for faster internet in northern Ontario

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Brad Ducciaume looks down his road and doesn’t just see homes. He sees offices. He sees small businesses.

He knows his neighbours are also struggling to work from home during the pandemic with the sketchy DSL internet available in this corner of Greater Sudbury.

“Yes, it looks a little rural,” Ducciaume says standing on a gravel road, with thick forests in between the houses on Lammi Road.

“But we’re still in the main part of the city.”

Ducciaume moved here in 2018. It was a bigger place with room for his in-laws to move in, plus a good spot above the garage for his software firm, which he’s always run out of his home.

The people who owned the house before told him the internet was “lousy.” He later found out how right they were.

Ducciaume says with his current set-up he’s told he should be getting six megabits per second. He says he’s lucky to get two.

He has now had to rent space for his business, commute there every day and pay for internet service for the office, costing him an extra $12,000 a year. 

“Internet is not a ‘nice to have’ any more. It’s a necessity,” says Ducciaume. 

While many others are now working from home during the pandemic, poor internet service has forced Brad Ducciaume to rent an office in Sudbury for the software firm he used to run out of his house. (Erik White/CBC )

Angelina Jacobs and her partner moved from Mississauga to the shores of Lake Wanapitei last year.

The setting is beautiful, the internet service is not. 

She is connected to a satellite network, but she has to download TV shows onto her tablet and also uses her cellphone for work Zoom calls.

Jacobs and her partner have gotten into the habit of checking the weather forecast and running internet speed tests before planning their work days. 

When it’s really bad, she’ll make the short drive into Skead, where she grew up. It’s a tiny hamlet, but has something much closer to a big city internet signal. 

“It makes video conferencing impossible, because I’m just a pixilated mess,” says Jacobs, who helps businesses implement her company’s software.

Angelina Jacobs moved from Mississauga to the shores of Lake Wanapitei last year. The internet is not great, but she is hopeful that promises for improved service will come true in the near future. (Erik White/CBC )

Jacobs says clients in Toronto will joke about how a cloud passing overhead could push her off the call, but she knows many of them would give up their condo for her lakefront home, especially during the pandemic.

“We have this gorgeous home, gorgeous view that costs way less than their monthly rent, right?” says the 33-year-old.

“And especially since they can work remote now, I for sure think people will try to start spreading out from the bigger cities.”

She is excited to hear governments of all levels talking about improved internet service and is hoping those promises come true in the next few years. 

“I want to say, ‘hey it’s 2020.’ We should have at least decent, not asking for Five Op, but decent internet,” says Jacobs.

“We’re a First World country. We want to promote the north.”

Many northerners have gotten into the habit of checking the weather forecast and regularly testing their internet speed before planning out their day. (Erik White/CBC )

When Michael Blair and his wife and two kids moved to East Ferris nine years ago, they knew they’d be giving up some of their online lives.

“We were OK with not having as much internet. In a way it metered us, brought us out of our rooms and brought us together,” he says. 

“When it started to impact businesses, when it started to impact education, that changed things.”

That changed with the pandemic, when Blair’s country home south of North Bay became his office and his kids’ classroom.

He has now joined the East Ferris Internet Advocacy Group, lobbying for better service for the small town.

“It’s only going to become more important and I believe we can’t rely on the traditional funding models,” says Blair.

Michael Blair and his family tolerated slow internet in East Ferris for years, but the pandemic prompted him to join a group pushing for better service. (Tracy Fuller/CBC )

The Manitoulin Health Centre in Little Current is on fibre optic cable and has strong, fast service.

But the rest of the island does not and the virtual appointments that have become popular during the pandemic have been difficult to offer patients. 

Vice-president of corporate services Tim Vine says, without improved broadband infrastructure, large parts of northern Ontario will get left out of the health care system of tomorrow. 

“I think more and more it’s appropriate to think of access to internet service being provided to folks as something like a public utility,” he says. 

Jeff Buell’s job is identifiying the gaps in internet service in northern Ontario and trying to find ways to fill them.

Somedays, his own home is in that category.

Buell, his wife and four kids are sharing a shaky DSL line in Chisholm Township, south of North Bay, and after COVID-19 hit, he was forced to get a second cellular connection for his work at Blue Sky Net. 

Map showing how much of Greater Sudbury has 50/10 internet service, but how that fades away very quickly after you go into more rural areas of the northeast. (Blue Sky Net)

“I actually haven’t asked Susan, because I don’t want to know, but I suspect it’s around $300, $400,” he says with a laugh. 

“‘I’ve had to promise ‘I’m not streaming anything. It’s work!'”

Buell says about 70 per cent of northern Ontario has decent service, but almost all of them live in the five major cities.

And even then, speed tests show that in cities like Timmins or Sault Ste. Marie, it’s not always easy to get the CRTC national minimum standard of 50 megabits per second download and 10 megabits upload. 

Buell says right now he’s trying to figure out how much it would cost to run fibre optic cable at about $80 per metre to every home and business in the north. 

“Understanding that that’s not realistic and we’re going to have a number that’s so big we can’t comprehend,” he says.

Buell says then you could identify which areas would be tough to serve with fibre and look at other options, including fixed internet towers or low orbit satellites.

He says one big difference from other major infrastructure builds of the past is that the internet will constantly need upgrading.

“I don’t see that stopping. I mean what’s the next phase. Three-dimensional broadcasting and ultra high definition,” says Buell. 

“I think the sky’s the limit.”

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BEYOND LOCAL: Students should be encouraged to study humanities for the post-coronavirus world, prof says

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Australia’s move to increase fees for some university humanities courses reflects global trends towards market-friendly education that overlook what’s needed for human flourishing

This article, written by Alan Sears, University of New Brunswick and Penney Clark, University of British Columbia, originally appeared on The Conversation and has been republished here with permission:

Finally, someone has figured out how to put an end to students wasting their lives in the quixotic pursuit of knowledge associated with the humanities.

The government of Australia announced in June a reform package that would lower fees for what are considered “job-relevant” university courses while raising the cost of some humanities courses. Under the proposed changes, “a three-year humanities degree would more than double in cost.” English and language course fees, however, are among those being lowered.

These reforms are proposed as part of larger changes to post-secondary funding as Australian universities, like Canadian and other global universities, find themselves grappling with the seismic impacts of COVID-19.

They also reflect larger trends towards what’s considered market-friendly learning. Around the world, educational policy-makers have chipped away for years at the position of the humanities in school curricula at every level to make more room for the so-called STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The humanities is typically considered to include the arts, history, literature, philosophy and languages.

Educational reforms

The Australian reforms are intended to boost enrolment where the government says more “job-ready graduates” will be needed “in health care, teaching and STEM related fields, including engineering and IT.”

The cost changes apply per course, so that “by choosing electives that respond to employer needs … students can reduce the total cost of their study.” The proposed reforms aim to make it cheaper to undertake post-secondary studies in areas of expected job growth.

Such reform efforts are part of a larger global push aimed at establishing the STEM disciplines as central to public education.

In New Brunswick, this has been illustrated in a series of educational reforms emphasizing the centrality of economic priorities to shaping public education. These reforms promote a focus on literacy (not literature), numeracy and science. For example, the province’s 10-year education plan, published in 2016 speaks of reviewing “… high school course selections in the arts, trades and technology, with a view to revising, developing and clustering courses to address labour market and industry requirements.…”

The New Brunswick reforms, and many other such efforts, have largely excluded input from teachers, parents, students and local communities. They’ve focused on the standardization of education systems, while ignoring global lessons about how more holistic approaches to education often produce significant system-wide academic success.

The new Australian policy takes a market-oriented approach focused on using financial incentives to encourage certain choices. Australia is definitely ahead of the curve on this one. Or is it?

Economic goals in public education

No single organization has had more impact on the global move toward prioritizing economic goals in public education than the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), through its Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

PISA is an international testing program that has traditionally assessed student achievement in reading, mathematics and science in almost 100 countries and regions around the world. The results generate press and shape discussions and decisions about educational policy and practice in important ways.

One group of education scholars writes that “PISA has arguably become the most influential educational assessment today,” and emphasizes that the program was developed to assist the OECD with its economic mandate and that this rationale informed the assessment’s framework and continues to guide its development.

In recent times, growing social and cultural fragmentation have created challenges for the world’s economies and prompted a rethink even in the OECD of the kind of education necessary for a more comprehensive prosperity. In 2018 it moved the PISA program beyond the three traditional subject areas to begin assessing “global competence,” which it describes as “a multidimensional capacity.”

Learning for ‘global competence’

According to the OECD, “globally competent individuals can examine local, global and intercultural issues, understand and appreciate different perspectives and world views, interact successfully and respectfully with others, and take responsible action toward sustainability and collective well-being.”

The OECD believes “educating for global competence can boost employability,” and also believes that all subjects can introduce global competence.

It seems to us learning history and other humanities disciplines are effective ways to foster the elements of global competence outlined in their description.

In our recent book, The Arts and the Teaching of History, we make the case that sustained and systematic engagement with the humanities — including, history, literature and visual and commemorative art — is effective in fostering a number of positive humanistic and civic outcomes and competencies.

These include: complex comprehension of history and literature and the nature of truth; nuanced understanding of the relationships between history and collective memory and how those operate in the formation of individual and group identities; and, particularly important in contemporary Australia, Canada and elsewhere, engagement with Indigenous perspectives.

This is not to argue that the teaching of history, literature or other humanities subjects is without criticism. As they have appeared in school curriculum these subjects have often been overly focused on so-called western civilization. Marie Battiste, Mi’kmaw educator and professor in educational foundations at the University of Saskatchewan, in her book Visioning a Mi’kmaw Humanities: Indigenizing the Academy explores reframing the humanities to create:

“ … a vision of society and education where knowledge systems and languages are reinforced, not diluted, where they can respectfully gather together without resembling each other, and where peoples can participate in the cultural life of a society, education and their community.”

Appreciating different worldviews

Does anyone really believe that in the midst of vigorous public debates about what it means to build a just society, the world needs more people without the educational background to understand where their societies came from and how they developed? In the age of Black Lives Matter, rising Indigenous activism and substantial public engagement we need to educate people to take responsible action toward collective well-being.

Of course, STEM subjects are critical in fostering understanding of issues related to sustainability and collective well-being. They are a necessary, but only a partial, aspect of any child’s education. The humanities play an essential role in aspects of global competence which have not been the focus of the STEM subjects.

If the study of history, society, culture or the arts dies, our societies may learn the hard way that it takes more than narrow job preparation to ensure that our students will flourish as human beings. Such flourishing includes willingness and ability to engage with the challenging and urgent social, cultural, environmental and political issues with which they are confronted in these times.The Conversation

Alan Sears, Honorary Research Professor, Faculty of Education, University of New Brunswick and Penney Clark, Professor, Social Studies Education, University of British Columbia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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