Saskatchewan’s new online learning system launches Tuesday, but some questions linger

School starts for Saskatchewan students Tuesday, but not all of them will be returning to classrooms. Some are enrolled in Saskatchewan Distance Learning Centre (SDLC), a new centralized system for online learning.

“We are operating in 10 different centres around the province, literally from every corner,” Darren Gasper, the CEO for SDLC, said Friday.

The Crown corporation is a centralized public system offering free classes to students no matter where they live in the province. Gasper said 150 teachers will be teaching from the 10 centres, and students can visit the campuses for tutoring or appear for examinations, but will mostly learn online.

Last year, there were 33 online school systems in Saskatchewan serving about 4,000 full-time students, and thousands more part-timers.

“We are currently sitting at 1,350 full time students and approximately 3,500 part time students but we also continue to see a busy phone line and e-mail registrations coming in as well. So we’re seeing that number grow each day over this week,” Gasper said.

A man in a black coat next to Sask DLC background wall.
Darren Gasper, the CEO for the Saskatchewan Distance Learning Centre, says three of 10 centres are still finalizing their set up as supply chain issues caused delay. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

Gasper said SDLC is communicating with families and starting to send out information. 

“We welcome any families to reach out to us. If they have any questions, please give us a call or reach out to our help desk and we’ll make sure they have all the information they need to get started.”

Students will have access to their courses online starting Tuesday, Sept. 5, and hear directly from their teachers early next week, Gasper said.

“While three of our physical locations are still finalizing setup, we have worked with our local staff and school division partners to ensure we’re ready to welcome students online next week,” he said.

Gasper said the school divisions have offered alternate rooms within the building for a few days as some of the infrastructural challenges are met. He said staff have been busy setting up for the school year and are looking forward to welcoming students on Tuesday. 

WATCH | Saskatchewan’s new online learning system launches Tuesday: 

Saskatchewan’s new online learning system launches Tuesday

While most Saskatchewan students will head back to the classroom Tuesday, some will learn online.

Rushed timelines and lack of consultation 

A bald man in a suit.
NDP education critic Matt Love says the ambitious plan should have been thought out more thoroughly. (Don Somers/CBC)

NDP education critic Matt Love said he has been seeing concerned parents online voicing concerns about SDLC.

He said rushed timelines combined with a “complete lack of consultation with meaningful voices in the education sector” has resulted in the present state.

“From the get go, this government has not developed a plan and a timeline that those in the sector think will work. So many have predicted that there will be problems. And here we are a few days from the start of the school year, seeing signs of challenges,” he said.

Love said a lack of clear communication is leaving parents worried, frustrated and unsure for Tuesday.

“I would love to chat with the new minister and update him, really, educate him on what the issues are in education. He’s an education minister who’s never spent a day in an educational institution in Saskatchewan. I think that’s very concerning,” Love said.

“I truly hope that our young people who are choosing distance learning will get what they need.”

Samantha Becotte, president of Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF), said Thursday that the union “predicted challenges” since the announcement of the centre’s creation last fall.

“We said that creating an entire system will mean all of the infrastructure and hiring and registrations. To be able to do that in a nine-month period was going to be a significant task.”

Samantha Becotte STF President
Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation President Samantha Becotte says the province should have taken more time to ensure that all the systems were in place prior to the start of the school year. (Alexander Quon/CBC)

Becotte said the government did not listen to the STF’s calls for a pause at that time. She said they asked for an evaluation of the timelines, but it fell on cold ears. 

“Teachers are going to do their best to be able to support students, but they’re also in a really difficult spot right now too,” she said.

“We predicted it. It does not put teachers in a good position. It doesn’t put families in a good position. It doesn’t support what’s best for kids.”

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