Generally it is assumed that the whole exercise (while bumpy) has seen a relatively seamless transition back to a semblance of normal. The challenge in this assumption is that it reflects systems thinking rather than looking at the small scale personal costs that many students in the province paid.
In February of 2021, the Ministry of Education published a study of the some of the impacts of the short-term lockdown on the graduating class of 2020. Although there are some positive aspects to the picture that the report paints, there are also some glaring societal concerns that we should all keep front of mind.
What the COVID 19 Student Impacts report shows us is that even in a levelling experience such as a total system lockdown, there were disturbing variances in the outcome. The study looked at the the June 2020 grads and found the following: (note: in none of these statistics is there any comment on either the qualifty of the educational experience or its impact on post-secondary performance).
- students who were enrolled in "bricks and mortar schools" felt generally little impact upon their educational path. Over 90% graduated and did not return to secondary school in September while around 5% did not graduate or return to school at all the next fall. In distributed learning schools (chiefly online) only about 20% graduated while another 30% returned to complete their diplomas. It should be noted that the largest group (around 40%) neither graduated or returned. In more traditional continuing education programmes, those numbers we even worse.
- for what the authors characterize as "more vulnerable subpopulations" within the province the numbers are also discouraging. Large numbers of ELL students (50%) , Indigenous students (40%) and Special Needs students (40%) did not graduate. The majority returned to finish their schooling but significant numbers did not.
Of particular note, of the 48,110 first-time Grade 12s in the 2019/20 cohort approximately 14.1% (6,809) had a disability or diverse ability ("special needs designation" or " learning disabled designation". However, almost one third (1,384 or 31.9%) of the 4,284 students who did not graduate in June but returned to school in September had a designation. And, even more disturbing, of the 4,671 students who did not graduate and did not return to school in the fall of 2020, 21.4% had a designation.
It would seem that our "success story" had some victims. A disproportionate number of students with a Special Education designation failed to graduate in June and either had to return to finish their diploma or dropped out altogether.
So where does this leave us? It is clear that a one size fits all approach to systems management, results in large gaps in service to vulnerable populations. Students for whom English is a second language, indigenous students, and students with a Ministry Special Education designation were especially disadvantaged by even a relatively short, two month, lockdown. One can only imagine the even greater impact in those provinces and international jurisdictions, such as the United States, where there were either multiple lockdowns or even year-long closures, has had upon their more vulnerable learners.
Education systems that merely look at the "learning gap" for students that remained in school are ignoring what will be an even greater social/educational issue in the decade to come.