September 23, 2020

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Manitoba online summer school enrolment spikes

Ted Fransen, superintendent of Pembina Trails School Division, says he believes the large number of students who signed up for online summer school did it to fill in gaps they might have missed when schools closed in March. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

Ted Fransen, superintendent of Pembina Trails School Division, says he believes the large number of students who signed up for online summer school did it to fill in gaps they might have missed when schools closed in March. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press files)

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In the wake of a school year unlike any other, summer enrolment at Manitoba’s online high school increased by 269 per cent.

A total of 1,373 students registered last month to retake a course via InformNet, which is operated by Pembina Trails and St. James-Assiniboia school divisions. That’s up from 372 in 2018-19.

"It’s certainly a sign of the times," said Ted Fransen, superintendent of Pembina Trails School Division.

"I think the uptake this year was simply because students were genuinely concerned that, as they had finished the school year in June, there might’ve been some gaps in the content, and just out of an abundance of caution for their own success."

Students from 111 high schools, who hailed from 34 of Manitoba’s 37 public school divisions, registered for a course; historically, the summer student population is from Winnipeg-area divisions. Eighty-five per cent of the credits registered this year were successful.

Fransen said Thursday both divisions behind the platform, as well as the province, anticipated there would be significant need, and the final statistics proved them right.

Citing the pandemic learning disruptions, Manitoba Education covered the cost of all InformNet fees in 2020, so students could retake a course they failed or wanted to boost their grade in, free of charge. Each session, which typically costs $210 per student, ran July 3-29.

The online high school’s summer programming did not include offering courses for students to take to get ahead.

InformNet, which was established in 1997, does, however, run e-courses throughout the regular academic year.

The cost of expanding the program this year — taking into account teacher salaries and administration — was approximately $151,000, according to documents obtained by the Free Press through freedom of information requests.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Education said the province will evaluate its partnerships before deciding whether to cover the cost of online summer school courses in future years. Fransen said the one-time summer school agreement has expired.

Looking ahead, Kent Dueck, executive director of North End-based Inner City Youth Alive, said summer school should be free. For families on employment insurance, Dueck said, $210 is "an impossible number."

"Our big challenge here is just getting kids to engage with education, and if you add another layer where it’s one for fee or a fee, it’s going to be a non-starter," said Dueck, adding he is concerned about how students who struggled with mental health, gang involvement, addiction and other challenges pre-pandemic will fair in school in the fall.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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