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A Ryerson University student uses her mobile phone in Toronto in tangent with her laptop to complete online assignments for her class in this file photo from Aug. 28, 2017. Mark Kingwell writes that online classes are a 'poor shadow of the real thing'.Brian B. Bettencourt/The Globe and Mail

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Public notice

Re The Psychological Fear Of Inoculation: Why Some People Will Refuse To Take A Coronavirus Vaccine (May 22): Psychologist Steven Taylor advises that public officials should “plan ahead” before misinformation is spread. But now is not just the time to plan – it should be the time to act.

Data from our artificial intelligence tool, which tracks public risk perceptions, shows that 15 times more people are talking about vaccines than three months ago, and what they are most concerned about is not getting a vaccine.

But that will go down, which is why a campaign should begin to get public commitments to receiving a vaccine when it is ready. Public declarations (i.e. on social media) leverage one of the most powerful tools of influence: consistency. By committing today when fear around COVID-19 is at its highest, people will more likely keep that commitment in the future when fear is lower.

Paul Hillier Principal, Tactix; Toronto

Let’s get digital, Part 1

Re Let’s Admit It: Online Education Is A Pale Shadow Of The Real Thing (May 21): Contributor Mark Kingwell may be right, but he may also just be resisting change. I find that the college culture he is talking about is increasingly a minority privilege.

My son went to the University of Toronto and spent hours in classes with hundreds of students and a professor far away, with microphone, in front of a PowerPoint presentation. Many students also work, leaving little time for “keg parties," “crowded football games” or "late-night residential bull sessions.”

He is right about polls showing that "a majority of students consider online instruction ‘inferior.’ ” But this may be because many professors don’t invest in something considered, at best, “poor shadows of the real thing.” Like him, I and my colleagues will do our “level best” to put good hybrid classes together, but it may be wrong to "approximate real seminars and lectures,” instead of engaging students in different and perhaps even better ways.

Jean Daudelin Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University; Ottawa

I teach legal studies at a community college. I recognize the necessity of online teaching to salvage the academic year. But I lament the loss of the classroom for two major reasons.

Firstly, the terrible inequities created by the online shift. Not all students are created equally, or are equally situated in terms of access to technology or conducive environments (physical or emotional) for online learning.

Secondly, the loss of water-cooler chats; the spontaneous discussions that blossom out of nowhere, bearing the fruits of curiosity that are informally expressed in casual musings before and after classes.

Let’s hope online classes are a temporary fix because, as contributor Mark Kingwell so aptly states, they are “poor shadows of the real thing.”

Gilda Berger Toronto

Contributor Mark Kingwell decries online education because students will miss out on the real learning that happens outside the classroom – apparently at keg parties and football games. While many instructors romanticize “sage on a stage” or discussion-based teaching models, students often dial out of boring lectures by scrolling social media or not showing up.

In seminars, many students lack confidence to speak or come unprepared. When I teach online, the majority participate in discussions and blog posts, contributing thoughtful comments to the entire class. When done well, online education is much more than grainy videos, and can elicit more from students than they would contribute in some classroom environments.

John Sandlos Department of history, Memorial University of Newfoundland; St. John’s

Oil redux?

Re Pretending Oil Is Dead Makes For Bad Climate Policy (May 19): Columnist Campbell Clark argues my stance against oil sands bailouts is bad climate policy, assuming that increased prices will assist conservation, while low prices encourage pollution.

Clearly, post-pandemic, demand for oil globally will improve. But the degree of that recovery is debatable. Royal Dutch Shell’s chief financial officer recently said it was unclear if demand would ever return. We are in an energy transition; fossil fuels will be used, but with likely declining consumption, and bitumen will be priced out of the market as too expensive to produce and of inherently low value requiring upgrading before refining. Meanwhile, the cost of renewables continues to drop, and demand for it continues to grow.

We should not count on market forces to avert climatic catastrophic impacts. Post-pandemic, governments should pursue the sweet spot of rebooting our economy – investing in what delivers the biggest bang for buck, for both the economy and the climate.

Elizabeth May OC, MP, Saanich-Gulf Islands; Sidney, B.C.

Think of the children

Re Canada Deserves Better Child-care Benefits (May 11): I believe contributor Ken Boessenkool’s solution to child-care affordability would replace the federal Child Care Expense Deduction with a not-very-generous refundable tax credit.

The proposed credit would, on balance, give most families a couple of thousand dollars more. Anyone who could not afford licensed and regulated early learning and child-care services before would remain unable to afford them with such a pittance.

So, where would these families go? Many would be forced to find neighbourhood sitters on the cheap. Some of them would be conscientious; many would be untrained and perhaps careless, becoming potential hot-spots for new COVID-19 outbreaks.

We should take child care’s role in our economy seriously. We should plan toward affordable, accessible, high-quality and safe care, available as a right for all Canadian children.

Gordon Cleveland Associate professor emeritus of economics, University of Toronto Scarborough

Contributor Ken Boessenkool suggests that the federal Child Care Expenses Deduction be replaced by a Quebec-style refundable tax credit.

A federal RTC would lower the after-tax cost of child care. However, simply replacing the CCED with an RTC in Canada’s market-driven child-care system would not impact much on workforce participation or deliver high-quality services. The research evidence on Quebec child care is compelling, with the province’s low-fee, non-profit option deserving top marks for quality and child development, and the full-fee, for-profit option shown to be burdened by low quality on average, despite strenuous efforts to enforce quality standards.

This market failure would unfortunately prevent a federal RTC from lifting Canada out of its child-care quagmire.

Pierre Fortin Department of Economics, Université du Québec à Montréal


Re Now More Than Ever, We Must Call Out Racism (May 19): It is interesting that some people see more of a threat from a Chinese-Canadian, who was probably born here and has never left the country, than the Caucasian snowbirds next door who recently returned from Florida.

Nina Truscott Burlington, Ont.


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