Ontario’s “Independent Learning Centre” is a distance education provider of secondary school courses for Ontario residents. Adults who wish to take courses for personal development, or to complete a high school diploma can study independently, and at a distance, for a small administrative fee that is refundable after a course is completed. Although the quality of these courses is not as developed as Athabasca University’s methods, things could be about to change. And this change combined with the government’s decision to allow a $3,500 tax credit for parents who send their kids to private schools, could unleash truly revolutionary forces.
Last month, before the Ontario legislature recessed for the winter, Bill 157 “The Centre for Excellence in Lifelong Learning Act” was introduced with little fanfare. The bill, if passed, will transfer responsibility for the Independent Learning Centre from the Ministry of Education to the Ontario Educational Communications Authority aka TV Ontario. It is expected that the current expertise of the ILC combined with that of TV Ontario will make for superior distance learning experiences for all residents of Ontario.
Currently ILC restricts its basically free education services to those above the age of consent; that is, to those 16 years of age and up. All others must enroll through a district school board who along with private schools must pay $173 for each full credit course. But interestingly a section in the new bill states that TV Ontario “may not charge fees to students resident in Ontario” unless permission is given by the Ministers of Education. Does this mean that private citizens who want to set up learning centres for students to come and work on their ILC courses will be able to charge the $3,500 tax credit as a fee for services while students get free access to qualified teachers and courses at the ILC? The ILC won’t say if this is what’s planned, commenting only that the details will be worked out when the legislature returns in the spring. But if so, this would mean that Ontario’s public school system will no longer have a monopoly on providing free education to Ontario’s students.
In order to protect students, all schools or learning centres that will qualify for the tax credit must be staffed by people who have had a criminal background check, and who provide their qualifications for the parents perusal. The $3,500 limit will make it possible for low-cost learning centres to provide a free education for Ontario students. Ontario students need to complete 30 full courses to graduate, so if one adds the cost of courses for one year plus the $3,500, the total amount comes to just under $5,000. The current costs for educating Ontario students is approximately $7,000 per year, so after the costs for course development are covered there would be substantial savings for taxpayers. But the most important feature of this scheme could be that the use of learning-centred delivery methods will eradicate the current high failure rates in math and science that Ontario students are now suffering with. There could be higher learning and achievement for all.
So if Bill 157 does in fact roll out to allow free ILC distance education to all Ontario students, we will ultimately find out that the Ontario conservative government truly does care about the compassionate education of all Ontarians, rich or poor, which is something that Ontario’s opposition MPP’s try desperately to convince us of otherwise. The whole thing could be brilliant, and as long as the education Luddites can be kept at bay (no easy task), Ontario could have an education climate where high-level learning might actually take place, a true revolution indeed.