Archive for the ‘Home Learning’ Category


Fifteen months into the pandemic, alarm bells are ringing from province-to-province right across Canada about the state of student learning, achievement and well-being. Active parents, learning experts, and pediatricians report that “the kids are not alright.” While some provinces are faring worse than others, real concerns are being registered about the “snowball effect” of learning losses in literacy, skill development lags, and the truncated preparation of graduating students. These are all tell-tale signs of a school system turned upside-down.

Shutting schools forces students, teachers and parents to make abrupt ‘pivots’ to hastily imposed online learning or various mutations of hybrid learning, combining some in-person teaching with e-learning activities. What’s most peculiar about ‘Home Learning 2.0’ is that schooling is now in a strange kind of limbo without much in the way of public oversight or accountability, particularly from parents weathering the Third Wave of COVID-19 school disruptions.

Conventional school-home boundaries, both physical and socially constructed, have blurred as home learning becomes more common.  Teacher-student-family relations now exemplify what American human relations expert Pauline Boss termed “family boundary ambiguity.” Under stressful conditions, “schooling has been integrated into the household” where parents are expected to establish regular routines and take on the instructor role. In the case of teachers, it’s meant adapting to radically different, mostly unfamiliar tech-enabled teaching and re-asserting their positional authority on a different terrain. Venturing outside of those comfort zones has also been fraught with dilemmas, tensions, and unexpected discoveries. 

Most of the Canadian public, including a majority of parents, have been left in the dark about the impact of pandemic learning loss, particularly on the development of Canada’s youngest learners. One of the few Canadian literacy impact studies, conducted by University of Alberta researcher George Georgiou is very alarming. Reading deficits among primary-aged students, since March 2020, in grades 1 to 3 amount to about eight to 12 months below their grade levels.

Since the pandemic descended upon us, more and more students are disengaging from school. Spending hours a day online and repeated scheduling changes, particularly in Greater Toronto Area ‘hot spot’ school districts, have contributed to worsening student absenteeism rates. Thousands of students in school districts as far north as Thunder Bay have missed 16 or more days, the benchmark of chronic absenteeism. Record numbers of students are missing attendance checks or not reporting-in at all under the home learning regime.

One year after the Spring 2020 system-wide shutdowns its hard to fathom why school administration is still tying to sort out how to measure student attendance and participation. Without clear, definitive expectations, students can sign-in every day, but keep their camera and microphone off so there’s no way of monitoring their level of engagement.

American research into student participation rates has already flagged the growing incidence of students working in the retail sector while still on the school enrolment books.  Daily behaviour routines are becoming ingrained and do not include logging into or attending classes. Some researchers like Wilfrid Laurier education professor Kelly Gallagher-Mackay express the fear that a whole cohort of students mat well “deeply disengage” to the point that it will prove impossible to bring them back.

            Serious research into the impact of school closures on parents and families does exist, but its limited here in Canada.  One incredibly significant December 2020 study, conducted by Bonnie Stelmach for the Alberta Schools Councils’ Association, unearthed unreported problems associated with the repeated “pivots” to home learning and the incredible burden it shifts to parents. Based upon a survey of 1,067 parents and 566 teachers, plus twenty in-depth interviews, the study demonstrated the profound impact, assessed in terms of “pulse points” in parent-teacher relations.

            Stelmach’s findings identify underlying issues that need further scrutiny and attention, particularly in Ontario and the Maritimes. Widespread confusion was evident in the interpretation of “Ministry directives” when it came to expected time on task (hours per week), real-time online instruction, and student outcomes. Suspending student assessment grading from March to June 2020 was panned by parents, teachers and students. It removed any incentive, especially in high schools, to work through to the end of the year.

Home learning was, and is, an eye-opening experience for parents and teachers.  While more parents clearly appreciate today’s teaching challenges, they are also far more aware of deficiencies in current elementary curriculum, the poor integration of e-learning platforms, the unevenness of teaching, and irregularities in expectations, even from class-to-class in their own local schools.

Canada’s largest school district, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), has just announced what, a short year ago, might have been unthinkable. Following a similar move by Ottawa education authorities, the TDSB will offer a two-track system again in 2021-2022, allowing parents to choose between in-person and virtual learning for their children. School choice has arrived through the back door.

Lifting the hood on ‘Learning at Home’ and its impact on students is long overdue.  Now that Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces are weeks into home learning again, it’s time to study the prevalence of learning loss, the socio-psychological impacts, and the burdens being borne by the parents of school-age children.

Fifteen months into the pandemic, some fundamental questions need to be asked about what’s happening on a larger scale. Is “Topsy-Turvey Education” the beginning of an epochal social transformation or the end of an era defined by binary and contradictory debates? Is home learning/e-learning here to stay as a permanent feature of schooling?  Will K-12 education ever be the same again?


Read Full Post »