Provinces and territories have failed to assess the education impact of school disruptions during the pandemic, and to plan for how students will be supported, according to a new report.
The advocacy group, People for Education, has been tracking the education, and the health and safety strategies of each jurisdiction and will release its findings on Friday. It found that four jurisdictions – Quebec, British Columbia, Yukon and Nunavut – have articulated a vision for dealing with the pandemic’s effects on students, but haven’t outlined a comprehensive plan for collecting and evaluating data, and providing supports to students.
The report “has shown a huge gap in concrete plans for recovery and renewal,” said executive director, Annie Kidder. “What we’re seeing in Ontario and what we’re hearing from other places is that individual schools, individual teachers and individual principals are working … to try and make things okay. We’re depending on those local heroics.”
Educators, parents and researchers have been increasingly concerned about the achievement gaps in learning, as well as the social and emotional struggles of students, especially those from marginalized communities.
The impact of the disruptions in Canada is still unclear, because, unlike other countries, including the U.S., there is a scarcity of data on how students have fared. George Georgiou, a researcher at the University of Alberta, found that students in Grades 1 and 2 in the Edmonton-area performed, on average, eight months to a full year below grade level on reading tasks by the end of the last academic year.
Ms. Kidder’s group is calling on the federal government to establish a national advisory table on public education. It also wants Ottawa to extend the funding it has provided for safety measures in schools to include gathering evidence and providing resources for an education recovery.
“The impact of the pandemic is going to be long term. What researchers are already saying is there is a bigger intervention needed to deal with the effect,” she said.
At the beginning of the school year, Alberta said it would spend $45-million on literacy and numeracy supports, after its modelling showed that about 15 per cent of students in Grades 1 to 3 will require extra help – twice as many as in previous years. Ontario set aside money for mental-health supports and provided $20-million for reading assessments in the early grades.
Tony Pontes, executive director of the Council of Ontario Directors of Education, said that despite his province funding summer programs and mental-health supports, there has been no effort by the government to speak with educators on what more is needed, he said.
“The government and ministry have not yet engaged directors on their plans to support children’s education post-pandemic,” he said.
Sam Hammond, president of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, said educators have been calling for a recovery plan but have not yet seen one.
“Governments want to believe that everything is going to return to normal, or at least pre-pandemic normal, and that is not going to happen. Our education systems, teachers, support staff and students need a clear and sustainable path forward,” he said.
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