A tiny person climbs a ladder into a computer screen and reaches for some booksWith the Ontario government announcing an extension of closures for schools and child care centres due to the pandemic, CUPE education workers in Ontario are raising concerns about access to e-learning.

“We know that in the short-term, school closures make e-learning a reality,” said Laura Walton, President of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU), which leads central negotiations on behalf of 55,000 CUPE education workers. “But we also know that the high-speed internet required for e-learning isn’t as accessible in low-income, rural, and indigenous communities. We need to address that and make it accessible for all moving forward.”

Walton referenced a study that says only 63% of rural households and 76% of indigenous households in Canada have access to the internet that meets e-learning requirements. 11% don’t have home internet at all.

“And what about parents who still have to work?” said Walton, pointing out that students without a parent at home may face challenges even with high-speed internet. “We have to see this through an equality and class lens. We can’t let kids who don’t have access to high-speed internet, or whose parents are essential workers or work in our grocery stores, to be unable to access education that needs to continue, crisis or not.”

Representatives of frontline education workers have been in consultations with the government to work out how public education will unfold during closures.

“One way this government can step up and support all Ontarians is by working closely with representatives of frontline workers,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario, highlighting working groups about custodians, instructional supports, and learning resources that have already begun. “Frontline education workers care about the services they provide for students and families. They need to continue to be consulted on how our public education system needs to look in these times.”

“We’re all in this together,” said Walton. “This is the time to support everyone: our members, who are part of the community of workers who deliver critical services, and students from all communities. Our education matters and everyone needs to be able to access it.”