Should parents have the choice of keeping their child in the same year after a disrupted second year of school?
After a pandemic year of switching between in-person and distance learning, Nicholas Madott is not ready to move from Kindergarten to Grade 1 this fall, according to his parents.
Currently on his second visit to the home since January, the student from Collingwood, Ont., Spends about 30 minutes online with his teacher and classmates per day. The rest of the time is spent learning offline with parenting guidance.
This year has been “sub-optimal in terms of the ability to read and recognize her visual words and to develop,” Carita Valentini said of her five-year-old, the youngest in her class due to her birthday. end of December.
She and her husband, Paul Madott, have asked Nicholas to continue in kindergarten this fall, but have yet to convince school officials that it was the right decision.
From parents and teachers to child development specialists and education researchers, many have expressed concern about the disruption of the education of Canadian students amid the COVID-pandemic. 19. Now, some are suggesting that educators reconsider an option that has been largely abandoned: having some students repeat a grade.
‘They get half an education,’ says consultant
The reluctance to repeat a year isn’t entirely new to the couple: they met her with their seven-year-old daughter Victoria, also born in late December, before the family moved to their current home.
At Victoria’s previous school, “they were at least open to dialogue and to evaluating Victoria as an individual. This time around we just met:” Well, we don’t do that to that advice, ”said Valentini.
Monika Ferenczy, an Ottawa-based education consultant who is helping Valentini and Madott with their claim for Nicholas, said she heard from many parents during the pandemic who feared the school system was not meeting their children’s needs and that students would be left behind. .
“They get half an education … certainly not the same quality of experience, of learning, which young children in particular need … especially from kindergarten to grades 1, 2 and 3, which are the critical years for establishing a good relationship and mindset with the school, ”she said.
“If we have a young child who doesn’t like going to kindergarten or kindergarten, he’s already at risk.”
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In response to the pandemic, many school divisions and school boards have had to embrace a series of changes in a relatively short period of time, she explained, including consulting families on the virtual school, organizing tech devices and Internet services for students without them, and in some cases. cases, completely changing the way education is delivered.
These changes will have ripple effects, so families should be consulted on how students will progress, Ferenczy said.
“Just as they were asked if their child is going back to in-person or virtual learning for next year, it should be part of the same type of choice and conversation,” she said. “” Would you like your child to continue in the same grade for some additional learning time with the second or third grade program, or would you like them to move on to the next class? “It’s a very simple question.”
Parents are always able to report concerns, ‘pandemic or not’
A range of academic outcomes has always existed within a class or grade level, so the strategy is to “meet every student where they are and move them forward,” said Laurie French, president of the school. Canadian Association of School Boards, a national body representing school boards across the country.
“All parents who are worried about the success of their students are still able to talk to teachers and the system … whether or not there is a pandemic.”
Some students thrived during the pandemic, Ms. French said, so she doesn’t see the logic of having entire classes or cohorts repeating their year.
However, she recognizes that post-pandemic education recovery efforts must recognize that for other students the learning gap has widened and clearly indicate the investments needed to address it, she said. .
“We have to trust the evidence. We have to trust our educators to tell us and start strategizing. It’s going to take us a long time to really understand what the impacts are,” said French, who is based at Kingston. , Ont., And also acts as a school trustee for the Limestone District School Board which represents Greater Napanee.
Not ideal, but perhaps the least bad option
In Canada, education is a linear system with age-based cohorts: what is learned each year relates to what follows. In this type of system, if a student is separated from their cohort, there can be negative effects related to social development, stigma and learning, said Prachi Srivastava, associate professor of education and global development at the Western University in London, Ontario. .
Over the years, the practice has been to provide targeted support to all children who need additional measures, she said, whether they are a student with learning difficulties or a ‘a student who learns faster than the group.
“Just repeating a grade without having the targeted interventions and required support is not enough to ensure that this child or student is able to master the program and the skills they need,” Srivastava said.
That said, times of pandemics are not normal times. Srivastava said the Canadian system must take several steps to address the learning disabilities facing Canadian students since March 2020.
The ideal scenario, she said, would be for provincial ministries of education to lead a broad curriculum reform, implementing remedial classes for all K-12 students to strengthen the skills of foundation and encourage the development of others – such as coping skills and mental health. awareness – for times of crisis or emergency. It also calls for targeted interventions and educational support for households, schools and communities severely affected by COVID-19.
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Srivastava said this type of high-level education recovery plan should be accompanied by comparable data collection, broad collaboration and adequate funding. And it should be in place for the next two school years at a minimum, she said.
If education funding does not get a boost and crucial curriculum reforms are not introduced, the system may need to consider whether repeating groups of students is “the problem”. least bad option, ”she said.
“Education and socio-economic consequences [of COVID-19] does not stop when everyone is vaccinated or when a good proportion of the population is vaccinated … These consequences survive that and that is what we have to foresee. ”