Global and domestic policy failure lead to third school year of uncertainty

The world is entering a third school year of uncertainty, and potential disruption. This is a global and domestic policy failure, says a Western education expert.

Prachi Srivastava, a global education professor in Western’s Faculty of Education, is available to media for comment about expectations for the upcoming primary and secondary school year set to start in most cases next week.

“The return to in-person learning should be characterized by a combination of strong societal measures, to minimize the spread of COVID-19, and strong school-level mitigation and curricular measures. In Ontario, we are seeing gaps in each one, but, I would argue the biggest gaps are in the curricular measures.

“There is very little actual action, planning, and reform on the curricular measures required to mitigate against the educational, social development, mental health, and other harms students in Ontario have witnessed given the longest school closures in Canada.”

Srivastava recommends a three-point plan to strengthen the curriculum:

1) Establish broad JK to grade 12 curricular reform, examining which parts of the curriculum should be lengthened, which should be moved to the following school year, and which should be brought into the current year;
2) Introduce programs to boost core skills and strengthen psychological and social skills;
3) Begin targeted interventions to help vulnerable students and schools

“There is a data gap. There have been no standardized data collection measures for comparable provincial or national-level exercises to garner how students have fared across a range of outcomes, including learning, mental health and social development,” said Srivastava. “Without this, targeted interventions and comparisons are much more difficult.”

In November 2020, Srivastava launched the COVID-19 School Dashboard, an interactive tool that reports and maps confirmed school-related cases of COVID-19 in publicly funded elementary and secondary schools in Ontario and connects those to data on school-level social background characteristics and demographic data.

Srivastava is currently conducting analysis using data from the COVID-19 School Dashboard. Preliminary results show schools in more disadvantaged areas were more likely to have higher cumulative instances of COVID-19 student infections on average, than schools in non-deprived areas.

“A good policy message would be to target schools in those areas with extra resources, in addition to extra supports for all schools,” said Srivastava.

Co-lead on the Science Advisory Table brief on education disruption in Ontario and co-author of the report on pandemic school operations, Srivastava also led a special event of the Think 20 (T20) Summit to inform the G20 on pandemic effects on global education – and what countries need to do to recover. She is also currently leading a policy brief on equity and inclusion for education recovery for the 2021 G20 Italy Summit process.

Commentary reflects the perspective and scholarly interest of Western faculty members and is not an articulation of official university policy on issues being addressed.

MEDIA CONTACT: Jeff Renaud, Senior Media Relations Officer, 519-520-7281 (mobile), jrenaud9@uwo.ca