A distance to fear in higher education

Since the beginning of the crisis that is hitting us, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEES) has experienced its share of difficulties, let’s face it. The often confused management of the health emergency in primary and secondary schools did not reassure parents, students or the staff working there.

As too often, the college and university networks have been relegated to the back of government priorities. Without anyone really taking the time to measure the extent of such hard work, the professors, lecturers as well as professionals and support staff from our CEGEPs and universities ended the winter session in full swing. crisis, followed up with the summer session and are now providing all the services necessary for the continuation of the fall session, which was greatly affected by the second wave. This, moreover, is not without affecting in many ways the accessibility and transmission of learning and knowledge to the student community.

This summer, the CSN welcomed the appointment of a minister totally dedicated to higher education and the many related issues. […] In the immediate future, Minister McCann must ensure that the additional resources put in place late by her government finally reach the front line, that is to say to the classes and all the personnel necessary to their proper functioning. This is far from being the case at the present time. While some managers take the opportunity to increase the number of students in groups – the latter sometimes reaching 300 people -, on the contrary, we believe that the sums injected should be used to face the crisis in order to reduce the size of these groups and add resources to help students with special needs.

The professors, lecturers and support staff that the CSN represents in the college and university networks must deal with the health constraints imposed by the crisis and are subject to a significant work overload that is neither recognized nor paid. Somehow, they do their best to improvise with virtual tools and quickly adapt their educational content without the management being too affected. With the means at hand, while waiting for help to come.

But there is also one thing that they keep repeating: it would be more than ill advised to use the current health context to excessively continue the frenzy of distance training which seems to have reached the MEES and too many establishments. higher education.

Long before the coronavirus epidemic, the establishment of an eCampus (which aims to centralize all the online courses offered by CEGEPs and universities) already raised the risk of seeing a decrease in enrollments in certain establishments and of accentuate equity issues between them.

Some universities in large cities are already much better equipped than others on a digital level and could emerge as winners in this enrollment race that we have been denouncing for several years. At the college level, the offer of distance learning courses could lead some students to enroll in institutions in large cities rather than in their region of origin, thus jeopardizing the very existence of some institutions. When we know the essential role of places of higher education, true structuring poles of the regions of Quebec, there is reason to be concerned.

The growth in distance education offers, the competition between establishments thus caused and the commercial logic underlying the projects of certain rectors, directors and other managers are of great concern to us. How to ensure the coherence of the development of distance education if the CEGEPs remain free to collaborate or not, as is the case at the moment? How to avoid standardization of university training content when the funding method is fundamentally based on the number of registrations, which is itself increasingly linked to the ability of universities to rise in the ranking of the digital offer ?

If the college and university networks can already take away one thing from this pandemic, it is that distance education cannot readily substitute for in-person education – and that it certainly cannot respond to the full extent. the needs that our higher education institutions meet.

[…] Under no circumstances should the current crisis be used as a pretext to plunge head first into this headlong rush that is the current development of distance education offers.

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