Online classes limiting potential of rural students, teen says

Students are seen working on laptops in this stock photo. The Nova Scotia Virtual School offers a range of courses to high school students in the province.

A teen who says she’s being put at a disadvantage because she attends a small school in rural Nova Scotia has sent a letter to her regional school board, pleading for access to more classroom courses.

​Kaitlyn Kavanaugh is among just a dozen students going into Grade 11 this fall at Fanning Education Centre/Canso Academy (FECCA) in the Municipality of the District of Guysborough, which has a population of around 4,670.

The only science course the school will offer to grades 11 and 12 students is Biology 11, said Kavanaugh. If she wants to take Chemistry 11 or Physics 11, it will have to be through online study.

‘We should receive the same opportunities’

“Science courses especially require hands-on learning. Doing labs are crucial to our learning as well as our preparation for university,” Kavanaugh wrote in her letter to the Strait Regional School Board.

“Although FECCA is a small school, I believe that we should receive the same opportunities as students attending larger schools in the province. Instead, we have to take physics, chemistry, precalculus, calculus, sociology, business and accounting, and many more courses online; only being able to talk to our teacher virtually.”

Online courses ranging from accounting to visual art are offered through the Nova Scotia Virtual School (NSVS), which was founded in 2011. More than 1,400 students enrolled in online courses through NSVS last year, according to the Department of Education.

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It’s an arrangement designed to allow students anywhere in the province to “take advantage of online learning options and/or to take courses that may not be offered by their local schools,” Heather Fairbairn, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, said in an emailed statement.

The NSVS website says some online courses are set up so that students can communicate with certified teachers in real time using either video conferencing or an online chat. In other courses, students “complete activities independently” and can reach teachers online during office hours, or by sending an email or instant message any time.

Virtual lab work

Fairbairn said steps are sometimes taken so that students enrolled in NSVS science courses are able to do lab work. She also said teachers of online courses partner with teachers at a student’s physical school to help facilitate communication, and that tutoring options are being added this fall.

“In some science courses, lab materials are sent to the students’ schools so that they can perform hands-on lab work in their home school. In other courses, there are virtual labs which allow students to manipulate variables in order to see results online,” her statement said.

“Academic results are tracked year over year and the outcomes are comparable for those accessing courses through NSVS,” she added.

No response to letter

Kavanaugh isn’t convinced, and she wonders if her future opportunities will be limited by having to study online.

One former student at her school who took online courses didn’t know what a Bunsen burner was when she got to university “because she hadn’t had the opportunity to learn that in chemistry in a classroom,” Kavanaugh told CBC’s Maritime Noon.

“There definitely should be a teacher for these courses that are basic. You need science in order to go through high school, so it makes no sense that they can’t offer that,” she said.

“It’s not possible for us to pack up and move elsewhere to get our education, so I think that it would be best if we could get a teacher to teach these courses.”

Kavanaugh said she hasn’t had a response to her letter.