Compared to last spring’s nationwide school shutdown, Monica Belyea and her children are having a slightly easier time with remote learning this winter term. But the Toronto parent is already worried about the next school year.
While her kids Maddie and Ben have “amazing teachers who are doing the very best they can” amid Ontario’s current school closure during a COVID-19 lockdown, Belyea wonders about how much curriculum is being covered in their respective Grade 6 and Grade 4 classes.
During her kids’ remote classes, Belyea hears the teachers’ time taken up troubleshooting tech problems and repeatedly walking students through online tools. Opportunities for one-on-one assistance have also waned. Ben, who is nine, shies away from asking for help online because he’s self-conscious about classmates hearing him struggle.
“What happens in September? Are there going to be accommodations made for the fact that many students are going to be behind?” Belyea said.
“It’s obviously not fair to the kids if they’re suddenly just thrown back into — hopefully — a regular school in September and be expected to go full speed into the regular curriculum, if they’re already behind from the year before.”
While her kids Maddie and Ben have ‘amazing teachers who are doing the very best they can,’ Toronto parent Monica Belyea wonders how much of the curriculum is being covered, and how the education system will address pandemic learning loss.
Education advocates and international experts alike are highlighting pandemic-disrupted schooling and learning loss as longer-term concerns that will persist even after COVID-19 wanes.
A year into the coronavirus pandemic, more than 800 million students — representing more than half the world’s student population — continue to experience major disruptions in their schooling, according to a new report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
In-person schools were completely shuttered for an average of 3.5 months since the global emergency began, UNESCO said. The figure rises to an average of 5.5 months when localized school closures are factored in, according to the report.
“The global shift to remote learning… has not served everyone equally in the world,” said Stefania Giannini, UNESCO’s assistant director general of education.
🔴 NEW DATA
Two thirds of an academic year lost on average worldwide due to #COVID19 school closure.
Closures of #education systems are impacting the most vulnerable.
“It is a global crisis which is affecting children who are more disadvantaged because of their background, family background and not being so supported as the richest students.”
Some students were ‘already scrambling to catch up’
UNESCO’s findings didn’t come as any surprise to Toronto teacher Sam Tecle, who works with Success Beyond Limits, an education support, enrichment and mentoring organization based in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood where he grew up.
Success Beyond Limits formed in 2010 to help tackle the Jane and Finch neighbourhood’s higher-than-normal high-school dropout rate and to work with incoming high school students who had already faced a difficult school experience before Grade 9.
‘It always, always comes back to haunt us when we don’t invest in education and our young people’s futures, which is our future,’ says Sam Tecle, a schoolteacher, professor at the University of Toronto and community advocate working with youth in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood.
So that’s the danger.”
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Sociology professor Janice Aurini explains how learning gaps can develop over summer breaks and why the pandemic has put the students most at risk in an even more vulnerable position. 1:49
For students already working through challenges at school, the pandemic exacerbated their struggle to have an enriching educational experience, Tecle said.
“They were already scrambling to catch up.”
The sudden changes and major structural shifts to education made amidst the pandemic — including the pivot to learning remotely online — have hit marginalized communities hard and taken them longer to adjust to, he said.
Many marginalized families face multiple challenges.
He believes school districts and governments must pay greater attention to it and invest in fixing the problem.
“It always, always comes back to haunt us when we don’t invest in education and our young people’s futures, which is our future,” he said.
Education investments needed, says UNESCO
Outside of a pandemic, teachers are typically already on the lookout for students struggling with learning loss and subsequently working toward eliminating that gap. Canada also has pre-existing summer school programs designed to help students catch up. Ontario, for instance, funds two- to three-week summer programs. They are offered by nearly every school board in the province to support students with learning loss.
Beyond what’s in place, Ontario is exploring measures to support learning recovery and working on a further plan to target learning loss “head on — with enhanced supports for reading and math for all students, for vulnerable children, including students with exceptionalities and from underrepresented communities,” said Caitlin Clark, spokesperson for Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce.
Protecting and increasing investments into education is what UNESCO’s Giannini wants to see.
It’s about prioritizing education as the real basic human right.”.