Ottawa parents worry about long-term impacts of school closures amid new analysis on the subject

New analysis backs up what many parents have said for months — that Ontario students, who are losing in-class learning, have fallen behind.

Ontario public school students are likely two to three months behind in their learning because of school closures brought on by COVID-19, leading to life-long losses in their expected earnings as adults if efforts aren’t made to bring them up to speed, a new analysis by the COVID-19 Science Table said.

For Ottawa parent Chantal Vicha, this year has been a struggle, and she’s worried about her children’s progress.

“You know, with two little boys, there isn’t much learning going on over here,” she tells CTV News Ottawa.

She has a five-year-old, and a seven-year-old with attention deficit disorder, as well as a learning disability.

“In order for him to learn, I would literally have to sit beside him all day, which is impossible because my five-year-old is also quite active and he doesn’t sit in front of a TV all day.”

Vicha isn’t alone in thinking her boys may be missing out. Citing research from the U.S., Holland, and the UK, epidemiologists advising the Ontario government say that students are anywhere from 1.6 to 3.3 months behind where they would have been academically if in-person learning was not repeatedly shut down because of COVID-19 starting in March 2020.

“If you’ve been in a system for almost two academic years of mass disruption, then you can imagine that there would be some effects on their learning,” says Dr. Prachi Srivastava, an associate professor of education and global development with Western University, who is one of the authors of the brief on behalf of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

The research shows that there will be long-term impacts on children.

“Long-term effects on economic mobility, on the children’s own development, on the students’ own skills and learning, and all of this is going to have negative affects not only on their wellbeing, but also on their life opportunities,” says Srivastava.

“For some families, those disruptions have been very stressful and have meant that there has been less access to the curriculum, and also perhaps more importantly to the relationships that make children feel connected to schools as part of their community,” says Kathryn Underwood, a professor, School of Early Childhood Studies, who also contributed to the brief.

“The stay-at-home orders have been an absolutely huge mental health crisis,” says Sarah Young, Ottawa parent with two high school aged children.

“For my daughter, It’s had a huge impact; she’s not able to learning online well. It’s caused such stress for her, she’s not participating in school much anymore.”

Many parents are angry that in-class instruction will not return for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. Some parents groups have organized protests. Adam Freed is a parent with the group Parents for the Reopening of Schools.

“These are huge impacts, and a lot of those advisors on that science advisory table have stated that even a short amount of time can have a huge impact.”

It’s impossible to gain back lost time, but the science table says schools can close the learning gap in the years ahead with more instruction, and additional money invested among other recommendations.

--With files from CP24's Chris Herhalt.