TORONTO - Covid-19 has exposed cracks in the education system. It took a global pandemic to reveal how ill-prepared school systems were for such an epidemic.
Across the Nation, provincial governments ordered the closure of schools in mid-march to mitigate the spread of Covid-19
The only option available to salvage the remainder of the academic year was to adapt to a remote version of virtual learning. An “E-learning” system was thrust upon students, parents and educators. Seemingly, an on-line system that most were unprepared for.
This is a sentiment shared by many, including Paul W. Bennett, director of Halifax-based Schoolhouse Institute. In a podcast released by The Conference Board of Canada (Sept 1), Bennett, a leading education policy researcher and consultant, likened the “E-learning” system to “emergency home learning in the educational ER”.
Compounding the level of unpreparedness for webbased teaching was the lack of access to technology and a.ordable internet access for some families. Moving into the new academic year, families do not want a repeat of what happened six months ago.
According to Bennett, the education system is characterized as “centralized and bureaucratic”. He believes that much has been learned over the past six months.
The lesson learned is that there needs to be greater emphasis on who the system serves - parents, students and educators. Moreover, this cannot happen without changes to the school system.
Bennett recommends the following: smaller schools, community- based teaching and more school-based management. Thus, more authority is given to the school and greater responsibility is handed to the teachers and parents for the education of their children.
Furthermore, focusing on critical areas in the early years such as reading, literacy and fundamental skills, including work ethic, can help prepare students for higher education and the workplace environment.
These early learning experiences build the foundation of future employees equipped with the skills to read, think, analyze, calculate and problem solve. And so, that future has started for students in the 2020-2021 academic year.
For the Toronto District School Board, under the “return to school” guidelines, roughly 70% of elementary students and 78% secondary students will return to in-class learning. The remaining 30% of students in primary grades and 22% of those in secondary grades will continue with the on-line education model. There is no textbook detailing the best way to navigate or operate a school system.
Across Canada, the education system is provincialized. According to Bennett, “no ONE system has it right”, however, different provinces fare better in various aspects of the education system.
For instance, he claims, Alberta does well in regards to student achievement. In terms of math excellence, the province of Quebec shows positive results.
When considering which province receives the best value for educational tax dollars, British Colombia seems to fare best. Students in BC achieve higher grades and the cost per student is relatively low. Moreover, where social inequities are concerned,
Bennett claims that the Ontario education system has done very well in reducing inequities. Ontario is investing more than $25.5 billion into public education for this 2020- 2021 school year. Under the student- centric Supports for Students Fund, $213 million will go to support special education, mental health and well-being, Indigenous education and other key areas. This includes new supports for marginalized and racialized students to encourage academic success.
Perhaps the shortfalls experienced in the last six months and prior will open up opportunities for a more flexible system. One that is more receptive to change and that operates more e.ciently during a public health crisis.