After more than two years of school disruptions during the COVID pandemic, Jessie Lamontagne of Toronto called her nine-year-old son’s third-grade year “phenomenal” because he spent most of it in the classroom, not online.
However, Lamontagne was quick to add that her son and his peers have a lot of catching up to do.
“Other than the children who are gifted, who are naturally able to progress without support, I think the majority of his peer group is behind level when it comes to reading and writing. That kind of literacy now is going to snowball because once you get past Grade 3, you’re no longer learning to read, you’re reading to learn,” she said.
Lamontagne is looking at various options to supplement her son’s learning this summer, though she does not plan to includer summer school.
“Most people don’t want to send their kids to summer school. They want them to actually have at school, during the school year, the education they need to be able to succeed, to have good outcomes in their life,” she said.
Like Lamontagne, many families in Ontario are concerned that children have fallen behind academically during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My oldest fared quite well. He adapted, but his learning style, he can be very independently focused and driven, very self-directed … my other two children did not fare well under remote learning. My youngest, actually, I think he logged on three times or something in a total of two months. He hated it. It was not for him,” said mother of three, Romana Siddiqui.
Siddiqui is also part of the Ontario Parent Action Network and is calling on the provincial government to cut class sizes in the fall, among other actions.
“If we were able to take some of that funding and additional funding and put it towards smaller class sizes and having more teachers, assistants and other sort of paraprofessionals within the classroom, behavioral therapists, depending on what the case and situation may be. Speech therapists, assessments of kids with IEPs having the additional supports in the schools, I think that would have been a more fulsome approach and that would have been addressing the needs in a more systematic way,” she said.
In February, the Ontario government introduced the Learning Recovery Action Plan, which was a five-point plan to strengthen learning recovery in reading and math, following two years of global learning disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“How we’re going to help strengthen learning and get these kids back on track is through, in part, the largest publicly funded free tutoring program, $175 million that was offered through the spring, it will be offered in the summer, into the fall, after school, on weekends and of course, summer programing for small group tutoring,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce told Global News on Thursday.
“We’ve extended TVO and TFO for one-on-one small person tutoring as well, which is done virtually and in person of course as a $375-million program … and the final component for our young kids … is a $25-million program we announced for early reading intervention where we can assess the ability of a child to read and then create supports for them and staffing supports to help get them back on track,” added Lecce.
Siddiqui called the province’s tutoring program a “band-aid solution” to what she referred to as a “deeper, more systemic issue.”
“Would I tell a parent ‘don’t take advantage of it?’ No, absolutely not. Do I think it’s the right long term solution? No,” she said.
Annie Kidder, of People for Education, said she is not surprised children have fallen behind in their studies and hopes there will be individual assessments done to discover what level each child is at.
“All kids are different, so some of them will have missed some sort of vital skill development, maybe in reading,” she said.
Kidder noted there is emotional loss that students have suffered as well.
“We have to look at the other things they’ve missed, the experiences, the relationships between teachers and students and students and each other,” she said. “All of us collectively have gone through a huge trauma and that’s what we have to recognize for kids.”
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