Children suffering from learning loss due to pandemic-era school closures
Children suffering from learning loss due to pandemic-era school closures

A new report has found that the pandemic-era policies of shutting down schools for extended periods of time are having long-term impacts on children who are now suffering from learning loss.

The report from faith-oriented thinktank Cardus, titled Pandemic Fallout lays the blame for the “substantial learning deficit” on the pandemic-era policy approach towards school closures and educational authorities and experts’ focus on pursuing a “build back better” narrative.

As a result, Canadian children fell behind on their learning, especially students with special education needs, those in struggling and marginalised communities, and at-risk children.

Across Canada, provincial health authorities ordered the closure of schools for extended periods of time – the longest being Ontario’s school closures for some 20 weeks from March 14, 2020 to May 15, 2021. 

The school closures resulted in an estimated 200,000 children not attending any schooling at all during the height of the pandemic, according to policy analyst Irvin Studin. 

Pandemic-era policies have had the effect of stymieing students’ educational and social outcomes.

While provinces like Ontario had cancelled standardised tests like the EQAO evaluation, making it harder to gauge educational outcomes, the report notes that learning loss has had a pronounced effect on students’ mathematics and reading results, disproportionately affecting students from low-income households.

Learning gaps for vulnerable students were exacerbated during and after the school closures, as stories of student disengagement, declines in academic achievement, chronic attendance problems, and worsening credit achievement proliferated during the pandemic.

Students diagnosed with dyslexia, autism, or ADHD – disorders that affect cognitive and academic functioning – had their symptoms and associated comorbidities worsen over the pandemic, overburdening parents and hampering academic achievement.

Despite the lack of national data, the report concludes that violence in schools has become more prominent post-pandemic, as surveys from the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario found a rise in  reported physical violence, witnessed and personally experienced by teachers and education assistants.

Student absenteeism has reportedly become a chronic issue in Canada that remains underreported, finding that students missing 10% of school days has reached alarming rates and has become normalised in Canadian K-12 education.

The report also found that the Covid-19 pandemic drove a significant increase in the number of children being homeschooled. 

Across 7 provinces (Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba, P.E.I., and New Brunswick), the number of homeschooled children rose 69% from 48,800 in 2019-2020 to 82,400 in 2020-2021, stabilising at 72,700 in 2021-2022.

Despite the documented problems with learning loss as a result of pandemic-era school closures, educational experts discounted and downplayed the claims of learning loss and instead focused on “pedagogical and political projects” and a “build back better” narrative.

The Ontario Ministry of Education did not respond to a request for comment from True North on if it has a plan to research and address the problem of learning loss.

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