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Toronto school board hires 350 teachers in rush to meet demand for online classes

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TORONTO —
The Toronto District School Board has hired 350 new teachers as it scrambles to meet a rising demand for online learning that has resulted in some students being left without a classroom.

The TDSB had previously pushed back the start of online learning on two separate occasions due to higher than expected demand.

On Tuesday, virtual school finally began for many students, one week after those who opted for in-person instruction began to return to classrooms.

However, an unspecified number of elementary students logged on to the board’s online learning platform to find that they have not yet been assigned a teacher and will be expected to learn independently for the time being.

In an interview with CP24, TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said that the board has seen the enrollment for its online learning program balloon from 56,000 students just a few weeks ago to about 78,000 today.

He said that as a result the board has identified a need for 500 additional teachers.

Over the last 24 hours it has hired about 350 teachers off its supply list but more will have to be brought on board in the coming days in order to assign classrooms to the thousands of students that have not yet been assigned one.

“We need these teachers hired as soon as possible. I anticipate we will be able to whittle that number down even further today,” Bird told CP24. “We should have a better idea in a day or so as far as a more concrete timeline. We are aiming and hoping that we can get all our virtual classrooms up for this week but really we will have a better idea once we get those staffing numbers updated later on today and tomorrow.”

All parents that enrolled their child in the TDSB’s online learning program were asked to log into the remote learning platform Brightspace on Tuesday morning as scheduled but those students who have not yet been assigned a teacher were then redirected to some independent learning resources on the board’s website.

Bird said that while the board had hoped to have its virtual classrooms “fully up and running” in time for today, the sheer scale of the undertaking made that impossible.

“We have never done anything like this on this scale and I would argue probably haven’t done it in public education across Ontario or Canada to this level,” he said. “It takes some time and we understand that parents, staff and students are frustrated. We get that. But for the majority of students, they are learning today. Whether it is in person or online, a majority of students are learning today and we are aiming to get everyone else up and running by the end of the week as best as we can.”

The TDSB has said that a total of 60,000 students have been signed up for its online learning program at the elementary level and 18,000 at the secondary level.

A total of 2,200 teachers are required to fill all of the needed virtual classrooms at the elementary level.

With files from The Canadian Press

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OPINION | Looking south, at a shuddering elephant

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This column is an opinion from Calgary author Aritha van Herk.

In Canadian director Sandy Wilson’s film My American Cousin, a B.C. girl bored with her “nothing ever happens” life invests in her visiting American cousin, Butch, all the excitement and adventure she yearns for.

A runaway car thief, he proves to be a rogue, but he represents all that is compelling for young, starry-eyed Sandy. Despite its period nostalgia, the film could be a lesson in Alberta’s fascination with that hot-car, quick-fisted, smoky seducer from the south.

Albertans have always peered across the 49th parallel with a mixture of trepidation and envy.

Some Albertans identify with what’s south of the border, the free-wheeling laissez faire of make-it-or-break-it, more than they do with what radiates from Ottawa or Toronto. Some have learned, at their peril, that an angry ambition can curdle business deals and handshake investments. Some are polite but wary.

Either pro or con, despite ourselves, we’re a version of colony, figurative more than literal, true, but still entranced, tugging our forelocks to American aspiration, inventiveness, and even pushiness.  

Given our history, the Albertan alignment with our neighbours should not be surprising.

An early attachment

Before the border was surveyed and the west colonized and settled, Indigenous peoples moved freely across and over the territory of the great plains.

When the nascent NWMP dragged themselves west, the same Mounties who were supposed to halt the whiskey trade detoured to its very headquarters, Fort Benton, to access supplies for their exhausted and demoralized men.

And the first sitting member of Parliament to represent the district of Alberta in Ottawa, in 1887, was an American, reformed whiskey trader D.W. Davis.

Over time, we have enjoyed altercations and suffered alliances. We’ve witnessed opinionated pundits and politicians who press for greater connection, if not the downright annexation of Alberta by the U.S.

The Wexit party might think they are advocating for independence, but they would ultimately bolt straight into the wide-flung arms of the U.S.A.

Still, we’ve tried to keep our distance, pretending to take a higher road, civil acquaintances rather than bosom friends.

Rallies have erupted into extravagant jamborees, says Aritha van Herk. The situation to the south is certainly closer to trench warfare than the thoughtful and dignified expression of citizenship. (AP)

The antics of the American voting process, described by Barton Gellman in The Atlantic as “The Election that could Break America,” are, to say the least, unsettling. Rallies have erupted into extravagant jamborees rather than the serious subject of psephology, that branch of political science studying elections.

Exacerbated by COVID-19, systemic xenophobia and economic uncertainty, the situation to the south is certainly closer to trench warfare than a national vote, a thoughtful and dignified expression of citizenship. 

Now, on the eve of the upcoming event, we watch more warily than ever, watch with an intensity and interest that combines anticipation with horror, nervousness with schadenfreude — delight in another’s misfortune.

Like that proverbial train wreck, we can’t look away, and if we comfort ourselves that “it won’t affect us,” we are truly delusional. It does, and it will.  

Many and determined are the pointy-fingered tweets and posts that claim, “Them, not us,” “We aren’t like them,” we’re “civilized” (now there’s a fraught word), we only take to the streets over maple syrup and hockey. 

We think that the mantra, “We’re Canadian, eh,” will protect us. 

Not true. We cannot afford that complacent sense of superiority. 

Distrust and disinformation snowballs

Pent-up anxiety about COVID’s changing rules and isolation, cases, and deaths grows. The sweep of distrust, disinformation, or “issues management messaging” snowballs. The churn in health care and education, the real struggles of job-loss and insecurity, contribute to this toxicity. 

“I trust my gut, not the public health people” is the most terrifying sentence I’ve heard, when “we are all in this together” — or at least we’re supposed to be. 

COVID seems to have given us permission to express our own distrust of science and the “liberal elite,” an excuse to retreat into a willfully blind individualism. Ideas have become less preambles than weapons, and their weaponizing is tied to suspicion.

We communicate only with those who share our views, in a bubble that has nothing to do with viral safety. We subscribe to a taste-driven world, and respect only monetary success.

The desire to replace best practices with a back-to-basics suspicion of change, a return to “common” values, and a denial of the advantages of diversity, all speak to some larger and more troubling trend, visceral and reactive.

At a time when we do need to work together, affective polarization is increasing incrementally, both in Canada and the States, although in New Zealand and Germany, for example, it is measurably decreasing.

This is not a direction we want to intensify.

The Wexit party might think they are advocating for independence, but they would ultimately bolt straight into the wide-flung arms of the USA, says Aritha van Herk. (Gabriel Brown/CBC)

Equally capable of divisiveness and stupidity, we are just as susceptible to disinformation as our American cousins. Trump is a symptom rather than an exception, and all the fake news, conspiracy theories, and credulousness drift across the border like phosgene. 

If Alberta figures itself as ex-centric, reluctant to cooperate with other provinces and jurisdictions, where do we look for community?

The truculent partisanship playing out in politics today is sobering, and if we insist on grievance mongering instead of consultation, we abjure the greater good and mirror our neighbour’s chaotic and headlong plunge. 

Our worst Albertan trait is to align ourselves with outlier thinking rather than a far-sighted imagining of a future that will certainly be different from the past.

In that respect, we’re nostalgic more than entrepreneurial, lamenting those heady boom days when we should be remembering the future, and how infinitely different it has to be. And how many opportunities it will offer too, if we only allow ourselves to evade the algorithm of yesteryear.

We’re engaging now in more argument and dissension, regardless of the fallout, than a unified quest for solutions. Discord is everyone’s second language, and we seem incapable of believing in the best before we jump to conclusions.

We target anxiety. We cannot seem to discern when we are being manipulated. We spend a lot of time squabbling about possessions: “mine,” we scream, or “not fair.”

Crippling partisanship

Partisanship is crippling leadership, a real peril when the best way forward is to unite in the face of a pandemic that needs to be quelled, an economy that needs a reset, and a nation that must come to terms with its hazards and history.    

The constant expression of moral outrage begins to argue the validity of its presence.

QAnon, hate speech and viral conspiracy theories manifest themselves in perhaps quieter but definite aspects of our attention and commentary.

Make no mistake, when that elephant below us starts thrashing around, we feel the ground shuddering and those convulsions only too readily become ours. Imitation may be considered flattery, but it is neither imaginative nor intelligent. 

And so, while I too will be watching the results of the American election with that irresistible fascination for a slow-motion train-crash, I will resist my joie maligne, delight in another’s suffering. More than sympathy for the devil, my attention will be worry. 

Believe me, I want to be wrong. I hope so.  And polling suggests that a lot of Americans don’t like what they’re seeing either. Civil discourse could make a comeback.

On the other hand, perhaps I should spend the evening re-watching My American Cousin, enjoying the ironic conundrum of falling in love with the duck-tailed, tormented James Dean figure who shows up from across the border in a Cadillac convertible — before he leaves again.


This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read our FAQ.

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Tentative teachers contract includes 7% wage increase

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The proposed contract Nova Scotia teachers will be asked to vote on next month includes a seven per cent wage increase over four years.

A video presentation to members, which was posted online, shows a two per cent wage increase in the first year of the deal, retroactive to Aug. 1, 2019.

There would be another two per cent increase in the second year, followed by 1.5 per cent wage increases in each of the final two years.

Teachers would also see a 25 per cent increase in marking and preparation time, if the deal is approved.

“It’s been at 10 per cent for more than 50 years,” Wally Fiander, the union’s lead negotiator, said in the video.

“Any increase in prep time should be considered to be a significant gain.”

Proposed deal reached last week

The proposed agreement also includes increases in the professional development funds for each of the regional centres for education and the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial, the province’s French-language school board.

The tentative deal was reached last Friday following a two-day negotiation session. In total, 26 days of bargaining went into reaching the tentative agreement. Teachers have been without a contract since July 31, 2019.

The union has scheduled three telephone town hall meetings next week to review the proposal with members and answer any questions ahead of a ratification vote on Nov. 18.

Unlike previous instances, the union executive is not making a recommendation to members on the proposal. During the last round of contract negotiations, the province and executive reached three tentative deals, all of which were recommended to membership. They were all voted down.

Teachers are seen protesting outside Province House in 2016. (Robert Short/CBC)

That ultimately led to a one-day strike by teachers as thousands of people descended on Province House in protest while the government imposed a contract through legislation.

The deal teachers will be asked to vote on does not include matters related to the pension plan. The government and union have agreed to deal with that outside of the collective agreement through the use of a three-person expert committee.

The financial terms of this proposed agreement are not dissimilar to the contract the province recently agreed to with Crown attorneys. That four-year deal also included a seven per cent pay increase over the life of the contract.

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Island’s universities challenged to ‘build community’ amid remote learning – Nanaimo News Bulletin

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Universities and colleges weren’t spared by COVID-19 and leaders from Vancouver Island post-secondary educational institutions talked about the challenges they’ve faced and the adjustments they’ve made.

A discussion on ‘The Future of Post-Secondary Education’ took place Wednesday at the Vancouver Island Economic Summit, with Deborah Saucier, Vancouver Island University president, Philip Steenkamp, Royal Roads University president, Chris Horbachewski, University of Victoria vice-president of external relations, and moderator Michael Hawes, Fulbright Canada executive director, talking about the coronavirus and its impact.

Hawes said the pandemic’s implications for post-secondary education are significant and said the traditional model of in-person learning and on-campus instruction has been turned on its head.

“Its effects are far-reaching. It affects the core business model of the modern university, it affects the framework for public support, it affects the local economy and it affects how students, staff and faculty deal with their study and their work,” Hawes said. “In many ways, the issue isn’t just about delivery, it’s about the nature of the modern university and how to deal with change.”

Saucier said VIU’s pandemic approach changed over the span of seven months. The university implemented a hybrid model, featuring both face-to-face and online learning for the fall.

“We moved more than 80 per cent of our offerings to a technology-mediated format in a week and we kept a number of things face-to-face … things like experiential learning opportunities, [practicum], but also our trades programs continued to meet face-to-face,” Saucier said. “This really required heavy lifting by the part of our staff and faculty to work with WorkSafe B.C. to ensure that everyone was able to do so safely.”

Horbachewski said the impact of the pandemic on UVic has been significant. Residences have only 40 per cent of beds filled and food service operations and recreation and athletics have also been reduced.

“We‘ve seen a significant increase in expenses,” said Horbachewski. “It costs to move students online. We had to build out new systems. We had to bolster bandwidth, we had to ensure that the supports were there for our faculty members and our researchers because at the end of the day, we wanted to make sure that we did not affect the academic quality. We have to rebuild a student experience. How do you build community when everybody is remote throughout the world right now?”

Steenkamp said post-secondary institutions have a challenge to reach out to people “who have been the primary victims” of the pandemic. He said an entire generation suffered from the 2008 recession and never really regained footing.

“We hear in this pandemic, in particular, women have been affected. We hear that indigenous people have been affected, other marginalized groups, as well, so I think it’s really incumbent on us working with our partners, in government and society generally to think about how we can reach out and serve those communities so that this isn’t … a ‘K-shaped’ recovery where some people continue to do well and others continue to do poorly,” Steenkamp said.

With some 75,000 students, 9,000 of whom are international, at five post-secondary institutions on Vancouver Island, the education sector is a vital element in the economic, social and cultural life of the Island, said Hawes.

Put into perspective, more than $40 billion flows through post-secondary institutions in Canada, creating $55 billion in economic activity, Hawes said.



reporter@nanaimobulletin.com

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