E-leaning is the new ORNGE

While mandatory e-learning may not be good for high school students, it may end up being very good for companies selling e-learning services.

Ottawa (15 Jan. 2020) ― Based on a Toronto Star article on the Ontario government's plan to make online courses mandatory for high school students, the plan is starting to look like the previous government's attempts to privatize air ambulance services by setting up a non-profit company called ORNGE.

According to the article, instead of having the Ministry of Education deliver e-learning, the government is planning “a commissioning process to create a new delivery entity.” The reason given for moving e-learning away from direct government control is the hope that selling online courses to other governments will generate revenue for the government.

Same process and justification used for air ambulance privatization

In 2005 the previous Ontario government transferred its air ambulance services to ORNGE (originally called Ontario Air Ambulance Services Co). One of the reasons given was to generate additional revenue for the province by selling provincial expertise in air ambulance services to other jurisdictions. To enable ORNGE to do that it was given the power to set up for-profit subsidiaries.

As has been well documented, using ORNGE to privatize air ambulance services was a disaster. The for-profit companies were used to hide questionable financial transactions including a 450% increase in the CEO's salary and $150,000 for custom made motorcycles. Costs increased by 30% in 4 years, even as the number of patients dropped.

Mandatory e-learning likely to harm quality of education

There has been considerable concern from parents, teachers, and experts on education about the problems making e-learning mandatory will cause for students. One researcher who has looked at e-learning found that students who are already struggling are particularly likely to be hurt if online courses were mandatory.

Private companies lobbying on e-learning

While mandatory e-learning may not be good for high school students, it may end up being very good for companies selling e-learning services. It already appears to be good for well-connected lobbyists.

The Ontario lobbyist registry shows a number of lobbyists acting on behalf of companies that sell e-learning services. Among those lobbying for companies that sell e-learning services are former cabinet ministers and political staffers.

Unfortunately, the lobbyist registry does not provide detailed information on the work of lobbyists so we cannot be sure if those working for companies that sell e-learning services are hoping to take advantage of (or encourage) mandatory online courses for high school students. However, there is a long history of former politicians and political staff lobbying for companies profiting from privatization.