hatting with a college instructor recently, it was disappointing to hear that the Covid pandemic has dramatically disrupted student learning, and apparently the subsequent outcome of this disruption is problematic! Just how is/was student learning disrupted?
Schools were closed due to public safety laws, leaving students subjected to online classes given by teachers mostly unfamiliar with that style of scholastic delivery. The problem? Students didn’t like the new mode of learning. The result?
According to the chap enlightening me on the matter, many students played video games instead of participating in their online classroom. This eventually left these students well below average in mainstream subject materials such as language arts and math. And, with government saying that no students would fail, how could students possibly loose? They’d still graduate high school, yes?
With thirty-some years of teaching to his credit, I wasn’t surprised by the instructor being aghast at, as he put it, “… the worst math skills we’ve ever seen!” Regarding English reading and writing skills, students’ inabilities were ghastly two decades ago, so one can only imagine their current level of incompetence.
It’s not uncommon to experience a young retail cashier or clerk who is unable to make change or spell without assistance from technology. However, perhaps the more disturbing extraction from my chat with the instructor is that now, well over two years into online learning, many students continue to ignore this mode of instruction. And, with public schools open once again, teachers are struggling to deliver grade-appropriate content to learners who are sorely behind academically.
I ask the instructor chap, “Why do you think students avoid online learning?”
Eyes flying open wide with shock that I’d ask such a question, and obviously bearing sympathy for the learners, he chides, “It’s the same as Correspondence back in the day!”
“And, that’s a problem because?” I smirk.
He has no rebuttal. I then admit to taking online courses from Ivy League universities, and that the quality of instruction is unsurpassed. I’m able to focus on the material, download lessons, revisiting them as needed. ‘Correspondence back in the day’ has a whole new look. It’s savvy, cyber-active/interactive learning, and sometimes it even offers excellent entertainment value.
Having been a classroom teacher, fresh in my memory bank is the slew of daily disruptions, each distracting students from the learning process. Lesson plans flew out the window when there was a fire drill, a fight in the hallway, when less than a third of attendees actually showed up for class, when the superintendent decided to do an unannounced inspection…
Memory also serves me well as I recall my grandfather whose English was just one of seven languages in which he was considered fluent. Regardless, he wanted to improve his English vocabulary. For a half hour each day, he would read the King James Version of the Bible. In this day and age, reading the King James Version in hardcopy or digital format is avoided by most, with readers opting for something easier and more colloquial. Bravo, Grandfather!
Another example of being motivated to learn is a brilliant friend, a Russian lawyer from St. Petersburg who, determined to speak perfect English, would listen daily to English news broadcasts. I admire yet another friend, mother of three and business owner, who decides she wants to be an educator, so in her forties, takes the necessary classes to achieve that certification.
One 16-year old lass from Montreal knew the only way she would escape poverty was through independent study. She eventually became a school teacher. At 92 years of age, that same lass accepted a top-tier job promotion while continuing with her independent Spanish language studies right up to the day of her death some years later. A treasured mentor of mine was she.
Examples of those motivated to learn are not uncommon. Unfortunately, most examples I see are of adults who are wanting to kick up their education a notch. We who’ve spent enough time on this planet have had the delectable honour of meeting them. They are courageous individuals who go on to build empires, become industry leaders… who respect independent learning and freely share it with others.
The question to be seriously considered—
Is the Covid pandemic truly responsible for this dramatic downturn in the math and English language skills of Canadians?
Maybe not. In May 1994, Helen McKenzie, Political and Social Affairs Division of the Canadian government, wrote that weaknesses in Canada’s education system included functional illiteracy and mathematics among high school students. Source
William Klemm, Ph.D., senior professor of Neuroscience, has this to say—
Blaming others comes easily, especially if it reinforces your biases and advances your agenda. This is abundantly evident in the public response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Source
When afraid, a common coping strategy is to blame others. Perhaps what the pandemic has done is to exhume the body of information we as a culture have chosen to ignore for three decades—that our educational system is breaking, if not broken altogether.
Online learners had complained about their classroom teachers prior to the pandemic, becoming even more vocal when forced to work with those teachers via internet.
Extending some sympathy for the educators—they were scrambling to modify and upload lesson materials to their new online portal, to which no training at that point had been given them about virtual teaching technique or the portal process, and to which, as it turned out, only a minimal number of students signed into. As one teacher puts it, “We are expected to do miracles with minimum materials and support!”
Education administrators were stressed by the many challenges and failures the new learning mode presented, stressed by the funding required to offer online learning, and stressed by further government dictums about education processes during the pandemic.
How can the critics or the dictators of virtual learning—government officials, school board members, students and their parents—who weren’t on the front lines of academic delivery during this unusual and unpredictable pandemic, possibly understand the dilemma public school teachers were facing?
While many questions remain about the future of the pandemic, it is clear that SARS-CoV-2 will not be fully eradicated. Source
According to educators, disastrous learning outcomes follow the Covid pandemic. Even if our concern about the pandemic is slowly sliding into our rear view mirror, recovery of necessary scholastic standards is yet to be seen.
Teen anxiety statistics are at an all-time high, and they seem to be only increasing. Source
From 15% to estimates as high as 31.9% of children and adolescents aged 13-18 years meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder. Source
Students admit to suffering from panic attacks, a popular and widespread syndrome that has gained a solid footing in Canadian culture. Do these students struggle with panic attacks while playing video games? Knowing about the ‘no fail’ mandate, are these youth subjected to attacks when skipping classes or failing to submit assignments?
Nearly one in twelve adolescents meet criteria for a diagnosis of Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED), severe and chronic attacks of uncontrollable anger that begin early in life. Source
Is a dramatic change in lifestyle such as was evident during the critical unknowns of the Covid pandemic, a dynamic trigger for our youth in public schools who suffer from chronic disorders such as panic attacks or uncontrollable anger? Scientists and medical professionals in Spain believe so. They have proven to their government that there’s an immediate need to increase access to treatment for children and youth because, according to their research, the pandemic “drastically increased mental health disorders, raising cases by up to 47% in minors”, further citing that “children and adolescents are very vulnerable to developing mental illnesses”. Source
Chatting with a journalist this week, he suggests that the main reason why students aren’t inspired to learn online is because school is as much about socializing as it is about academics. Socializing online isn’t quite the same as physical contact in a classroom.
A primary grade school teacher says that being back in the classroom after pandemic closures has been difficult and discouraging. She complains that providing hardcopy materials is no longer an option because schools are to be ‘green’, to be ecological stewards even when strapped financially and therefore unable to provide each student with constant access to a computer/digital device.
Is it possible that virtual classrooms fail(ed) to educate because of these and many other varied unknowns? Are understanding and compassion for our students or financial constraints reason enough to disregard academic progress in public schools?
. . . a word banned in Canadian prairie public schools. We now say, ‘outcomes’.
One outcome from the ongoing Covid pandemic is that hiring employees has never been more difficult. Job applications and interviews are not happening, especially for minimum wage positions.
Recently, while filling my car with petro, I noticed that all those running the service station were women, the majority of which were older if not actually seniors (65+ years of age). The only young person in the lot was accepting payments at the till. According to one of the older women, the entire city was in trouble, with employers unable to hire much needed staff. That explained why the grocery tellers I also encountered that day were all older adults, one being the store owner himself.
Where are the hundreds of high school students living in that area? Where are those who struggled financially because of unemployment during the height of the pandemic?
Prior to the pandemic, it was common to hear parents complain about what their students were being taught in school, seeing the curriculum as impractical overall. And, complain these parents did in front of their offspring. Is this a reason why students don’t respect learning? Moreover, why should they? After all, when the pandemic hit, the Canadian government gave monetary handouts. Doesn’t that underline the notion that someone somewhere will look after me?
It is agreed that the government pandemic handout was a lifeline for so very many who otherwise would not have been able to put food on their table. It’s understood that the handouts were misused by some, but for the most part, it’s also understood that the handout was an emergency measure designed to rescue the needy and vulnerable.
The pandemic saw physicians and teachers retiring, leaving our medical and educational systems further stressed to the max. The current cry for qualified personnel to fill those positions is a desperate one. Who will or can answer the call?
The breakdown of supply and demand is visible nationwide, with waiting times for medical procedures longer than ever before, with empty shelves in grocery stores during a pandemic that just simply won’t go away! Underscore this with the ongoing war in Ukraine and subsequent gas prices that make commuting to work costly… it’s hard to ignore a grim looking future.
Students rejecting education in school or online, and therefore further jeopardizing career opportunities, makes it safe to assume that professional and general labour positions will continue to be wanting for years to come. Is it time for those of us who are acquainted with or open to independent learning to step up our game and equip ourselves with new training and skills so we can help to meet the basic needs of our communities?
The purpose of distance learning during the war is not only the acquisition of new knowledge, but also psychological support, communication, switching children’s attention. Source
— Valentin Mondryivsky on the Ukraine Russian War 2022
Up for some self-study? Check out these interesting links . . .
- Critical and Creative Thinking
- Distance Versus Traditional Classroom Learning
- Interesting Panic Attacks Facts
- Software Solutions in Education
- Strategies for Maintaining Quality in Distance Higher Education
- University Student Perspective Of Classroom And Distance Learning During COVID-19 Pandemic
FYI: Correspondence ‘back in the day’ — Students received all learning materials and workbooks via Canada Post. Completed assignments were then mailed back to the governing educational institution.