Pan-Canadian comparison finds minimal data collection, few comprehensive recovery plans
A scan of K to 12 education policies across Canada reveals a glaring reality; while all provinces and territories have detailed safety strategies for schools, few have articulated a vision or guidelines to manage, assess, or respond to the educational impact of COVID-19.
In January 2022, People for Education conducted a pan-Canadian scan of K to 12 education strategies in response to COVID-19. The information came from government websites and media stories focusing on provincial/territorial strategies, guidelines, and resources in areas such as broader learning opportunities (e.g., extracurricular activities, experiential courses, co-op placements), educator resources, student supports, exams and graduation requirements, and data collection measures.
A range of educational responses
The scan reveals that only four out of the thirteen provinces and territories have developed comprehensive documents that provide both guidelines and goals to support students and staff as they deal with the ongoing impacts of the pandemic:
- Quebec’s Revitalization Plan for Educational Success outlines key principles and areas for intervention, as well as a plan to support research to evaluate how students have been affected by the pandemic.
- Guidelines in Nunavut’s Learning to Be Together Again framework and its RESTORE Toolkit for Nunavut Schools include a vision for “recovery learning”; guidance about effective assessment that recognizes the impact of the pandemic; and practical tools to help education staff respond to students’ and families’ social-emotional needs.
- The Yukon K to 12 Recovery Plan includes strategies for individual educators and schools to evaluate the impact of the pandemic, including monitoring attendance patterns, analyzing data from the Early Years Evaluation, giving students a platform to provide feedback through surveys, and conducting ongoing reading assessments.
- British Columbia’s K-12 Education Recovery Plan has a commitment to collaborate with stakeholders and direction for local boards and schools to “develop processes for identifying and addressing pandemic impacts on student learning and well-being with a focus on the ‘whole child’ including literacy, numeracy, social-emotional development and mental health.” British Columbia also regularly consults with its provincial K to 12 Education Steering Committee, made up of educators, parents, support workers, school staff and school leaders, trustees, First Nations, Métis, and public health experts.
None of the plans include provincial or territorial reporting, data-collection, or tracking of evaluations. In addition, it is not clear whether any of the plans and policies are backed up by adequate resources, staff, and/or time for implementation.
Supporting families and students
Despite the small number of education recovery plans among provinces and territories, several of them are working to provide supports for students and families. For example, Alberta is in the preliminary stages of hosting an online tutoring hub which currently has six videos for elementary students, and New Brunswick has a parent portal with resources, updates, and a phone line.
School Mental Health Ontario, which is funded by the provincial government, has resources for system leaders, educators, parents, and students. The resources cover everything from “grounding exercises” for overwhelmed students, to tips for adult allies.
Mental health a priority across the country
Nearly all the provinces and territories point to student and staff mental health as a key issue, but here too there are substantial variations across the country. For example, BC’s Key Principles and Strategies for Mental Health Promotion in K to 12 Schools – developed with support from the Ministry of Education’s Mental Health School Start-up Working Group – includes a set of recommendations and resources. Newfoundland and Labrador has a mental health resource hub, and Prince Edward Island has a Strongest Families program that provides online mental health supports for children, youth, and families.
In their responses to the 20-21 Annual Ontario School Survey, principals reported that the demand for mental health and educational supports had skyrocketed over the previous year.
Minimal plans for evaluating impact on student learning
Some provinces and territories have suggested that boards, schools, and staff develop processes for assessing pandemic impacts on things like students’ literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional development. However, none appear to have put in place an overall plan for assessing and addressing the impact of the pandemic on student learning and mental health.
In Ontario, the province has provided funding for reading assessments in the primary grades, and the Ministry of Education requires school boards to report on things like parent and student feedback on the impact of remote learning and areas where educators required support to deliver online learning. Some Ontario school boards are tracking impacts on indictors such as students’ reading skills, but there is no overall provincial mechanism for reporting on pandemic-related impacts on students’ learning, participation rates, or mental health.
Preliminary research in Quebec using report card information has provided some data, but again, there does not appear to be any overall provincial strategy for assessment and evaluation.
Recommendations for next steps
In the first year of the pandemic, the UN warned of a potential generational catastrophe. The research currently available shows that Canada’s 5.5 million children and young people are not immune from that impact.
The pandemic has proven that schools across Canada can rise to the occasion when needed, but without comprehensive plans to collect data and measure the impact of COVID-19 it will be difficult to develop effective, evidence-based, and adequately resourced recovery and renewal plans.
- The federal government should:
- establish a National Advisory Table on Public Education as recommended by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.
- extend its current funding to provinces, territories, and First Nations with a multi-billion dollar, multi-year Education Recovery Fund to support planning, evidence-gathering, assessments, increased numbers of staff, and vital resources.
- Provinces and territories, working collaboratively with school boards and education stakeholders, should:
- develop comprehensive recovery and renewal plans supported by data collection, sample-based evaluations of student progress, student surveys, and well-being assessments.
- ensure recovery and renewal plans include specific, measurable goals for addressing the inequities, structural barriers, and systemic racism exposed and amplified by the pandemic and that continue to prevent equal access to all students.