Schools are working to make up for learning losses that have already occurred during the pandemic

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You’ve probably heard of the Summer Slide: Where Students Could Start the School Year After Losing Some Numeracy and Literacy Skills After a Two-Month Break in Formal Learning.But families, educators and researchers fear that this year’s summer setback, made worse by school closures in the event of a pandemic last spring, could have lasting negative effects on the performance of Canadian students if they are not. not intentionally treated this school year.

How schools will tackle this long period of lost learning – with most children physically absent from class for five to six months – is a concern for many parents, says Toronto parent Anna-Kay Brown , co-chair of Jane and Finch Education. Action group.

Students already identified as having a learning deficit may have received additional help or perhaps one-on-one tutoring at school before the pandemic, but the rapid pivot to distance learning earlier this year has likely put an end to that, she said.

This loss will have been exacerbated by the fact that many families – including those in its community in northwest Toronto, among the city’s most affected by COVID-19 – were unable to participate or sustain distance learning for various reasons.

COVID-19 has revealed “a growing gap between [haves and have-nots], to find out who can afford to educate their children, ”says Anna-Kay Brown, seen with her school-aged children, Anthony and Arianna. (Evan Mitsui / CBC)

The pandemic has exposed “a growing divide between [haves and have-nots], when it comes to people who can afford to educate their children, ”said Brown, a mother of two school-aged children and one baby.

“How do we reduce these learning gaps that we knew existed before COVID but could be now? [been] increased due to COVID? ”

WATCH | Sociology professor explains the ‘summer setback’ and why COVID-19 likely made the problem worse:

Sociology professor Janice Aurini explains how learning gaps can develop during summer vacation and why the pandemic has put students most at risk in an even more vulnerable position. 1:49

“Much more difficult to catch up”

Catherine Haeck, professor of economics at the University of Quebec in Montreal, is also concerned about the learning loss accumulated since the end of March.

“You can expect the learning gap to widen dramatically during the pandemic,” said Haeck, who studies human capital development in children and youth. Earlier this summer, she co-wrote an article on the potential impact of the pandemic on children’s academic success.

Students who have enjoyed family support and access to a variety of resources and learning opportunities over the past six months have probably not fallen too far behind, “but the children who live in an environment where they don’t have access to technology… and have parents who have jobs that require them to be outside the home, these children will have lost ground, ”she said.

“For them, it will be much more difficult to catch up. “

“The learning gap can be expected to have widened considerably during the pandemic,” says Catherine Haeck, professor of economics at the University of Quebec at Montreal. (CBC)

Closing the gap is vital because students’ academic success can have a major impact on their lives, according to Haeck. The test scores correlate with the likelihood of a student graduating from high school, the likelihood of pursuing post-secondary education and even into adulthood, including future employment and earning potential, a- she explained.

“The scores that we measure early on are extremely correlated with what happens later in life,” Haeck said.

Prince Edward Island adjusts program, identifies priorities

The way provincial and territorial ministries of education are approaching the learning gap expected this fall differs, just as they have varied in their plans to reopen schools.

Quebec, for example, pledged to spend $ 20 million to hire teachers and other specialists to help students who have fallen behind due to the pandemic (with a particular focus on students with disabilities) while Nova Scotia pledged to hire more support staff later this fall after teachers assess student needs back in class. Nunavut published a ” Recovery learning framework“To encourage plans to fill learning gaps after teachers reported it as a concern in June.

Meanwhile, Prince Edward Island has made the bold decision to revise its program for this fall in response to the pandemic.

After polling parents, teachers and students about distance learning in the spring, the Prince Edward Island Department of Education heard loud and clear from Islanders worrying about the loss of learning due to children not going to school for so long. In addition to hopes that this school year could include further closures caused by a pandemic, officials have chosen to adjust the program in an attempt to move it forward.

“We started this work in April… [and ask] “If we’re not going to have a full year of learning, what guidelines might we give teachers to prioritize at the start of the school year? Explained Tamara Hubley-Little, Director of English Education Programs for the Prince Edward Island Department of Education and Services.

“Not only did we compact the program in anticipation of interruptions, but in some cases, we took lessons from the previous year and rolled them over to the next year, to fill in student learning gaps. “

Tamara Hubley-Little, director of English-language education programs and services for the Prince Edward Island Department of Education, says updating the curriculum helps ensure consistency for students and helps educators focus their teaching. (Submitted by Tamara Hubley-Little)

The fact that the department has defined areas of ‘core learning’ – key elements of the curriculum, such as math and language arts, that students need to know in order to have continued success – has helped tremendously ago. under ten, said Hubley-Little.

Along with this curriculum adjustment and a renewed focus on checking student mental health and well-being, officials have also worked with teachers to develop the technological skills that will be needed if there is a return to school. distance learning. In turn, teachers are also making students more comfortable with technology this fall, although Hubley-Little noted that Prince Edward Island will not place as much emphasis on learning. synchronous online than other jurisdictions, as the province cannot guarantee that all students will be. able to access it.

Incorporating these types of updates into the current curriculum is an opportunity to provide some consistency to students and help educators focus their teaching, she said.

To embark on a new school year without addressing the key learnings that may have been missed in the last disruption would be daunting and unfair for students, says Jerry McAulay, principal of Athena Consolidated School in Summerside, PEI. -E. (CBC)

At the school level, teachers view the changes as realistic actions that students need now, says Jerry McAuley, principal of Athena Consolidated School in Summerside, Prince Edward Island. kindergarten, he said.

“If we jumped straight with [an unchanged] I think it would be disheartening for them, “McAuley said.” It would be unfair to them. I think it would be unfair to ask teachers to do this without some [earlier] fundamentals they really needed to be successful in first grade. ”

The small size of the province was an advantage in making those adjustments quickly, he said.

“I taught in Manitoba and taught in Ontario… We are fortunate here in Prince Edward Island because it is easy for us to come together. [of education] to transport a group of administrators or teachers and work in collaboration with them or to obtain their opinion. ”

Schools “an equalizing influence”

Experienced teachers are well aware that each fall students return with very different summer experiences and some will require support to catch up, said Janice Aurini, associate professor of sociology at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, in Ontario.

“These children who were already vulnerable – who would already have suffered summer learning losses and the challenge of having to catch up after summer vacation – are now entering school even later than they would have been. normally done, ”said Aurini, who led the first large-scale study on the summer setback phenomenon in Canada.

Students at Athena Consolidated School listen to their first-grade teacher, Lorelei MacArthur, read a story on Tuesday. (CBC)

An additional challenge this fall, she noted, will be that certain supports in a teacher’s toolbox to address learning loss – for example, after-school tutoring or homework clubs – may not be suspended alongside school arts clubs, sports teams and similar extracurricular activities due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“If parents have the financial capacity, they can certainly access these things through Zoom or some other kind of technology… But for a lot of low-income families, schools are really the hub that provides a lot of resources and that. exerts a compensatory influence ”. she says.

A bright light she sees, however, are the already established summer programs designed to help children catch up. In Ontario, for example, these two to three week programs are funded by the province and offered by almost all school boards during the summer. Aurini hopes that these programs will not only continue but be extended over the next few years.

“We know these programs work, that they help to bridge all kinds of disparities,” she said.

Keeping schools open must be a priority, according to Aurini, but if a drastic increase in COVID-19 cases forces another shutdown, it will be imperative to switch to substantial distance learning much faster than last spring.

“Children cannot do without some kind of educational support and continuous learning opportunities for many months to come,” she said.

“It’s the non-school time when kids start to fall behind. When kids are in school, it’s quite remarkable the ability of our teachers and our education system to really nurture these differences, not only in learning, but also in providing kids with all kinds of things. other possibilities they might not otherwise have had access to. We need our schools. ”

WATCH | What schools are doing to make up for lost class time due to the pandemic:

Students often experience learning gaps after a summer break, but the extended time away from school due to the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem and is further complicated by inequalities in the resources available to students at home. 2:01

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