COLUMN: Dealing with snow days

Since February 12th, students in the Cornwall/SDG region have not had a five-day school week. They will not have a full five-day week of school until April 4-8. Unless there is yet another “snow day”. That is almost two months where students have had inconsistent school schedules.

We all can appreciate that buses do not run in inclement weather. Done in the interest of safety, and in response to actual weather, or severe weather forecasted for that day. That said, students are losing class room time, and in Ontario that time is not made up.

Neighbouring jurisdictions such as New York State have fewer snow days. They must maintain a minimum number of instruction days, otherwise they lose school funding. That is not the ideal either, as schools face the choice of funding over safety. In some school districts in that state, they have extended the school year to make up lost days.

If the Ontario way reduces classroom time, and the New York way puts funding over safety, what is the ideal way to fix the problem? Technology.

In the last 20 years, telecommuting has become commonplace in the government and corporate work world. In the last two months,  government departments and corporate offices posted warnings that if a person could work from home, they should do so. Those workers telecommuted and were productive.

Education has also evolved in the last 20 years. Technology has become a part of everyday classroom teaching. From smart boards to iPads, and everything between. Kids learn Microsoft Office now instead of cursive writing in class. Secondary school students even telecommute, taking online-based classes where numbers do not warrant running the class in the school.

The extension of this is full-on telecommuting. Some schools in North America already assign students a laptop or other device at the start of the school year. The student then takes that to classes for note taking and participation. And they take it home for working on homework. It has helped ease some of the income-equality where families may not have a computer for their children to use.

If this occurred in classrooms in Ontario, then teachers could video conference with students. Students would receive work from teachers and be able to submit it at the click of a mouse, or a screen tap. Even if this occurred for a reduced amount of time on snow days, it would still keep students engaged in learning.

Of course there would be a cost to this. Not only for the devices but the IT people to help fix it. A decent laptop or 10-inch tablet costs approximately $500 before taxes. According to the Ontario Ministry of Education, there were just over two million students in 2015. In theory it would cost one billion dollars to outfit every student. In reality, the cost would be much lower. Bulk purchasing of an off-the-shelf item lowers the cost. Sticking to one supplier helps that as well. Then there is the captive audience factor. In a battle between tech giants, name one that would not want to supply two million youth with their equipment. My first vehicle was a Dodge. Guess what I still drive today, a Dodge. By leveraging the size of audience, costs go down.

If the provincial government can spend two billion on cancelling gas plants, or any of the other myriad of poor spending choices they have made, they could invest in technology for student education.

The trend in schools in Ontario has been to have more transportation cancellations. By using technology to balance safety concerns with education, students wont miss the bus when it comes to learning.