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The Pandemic's Education Fallout is Real

Report challenges us to face realities of pandemic learning loss


November 29, 2023 

OTTAWA, ON – Students have not bounced back. In its new report, Pandemic Fallout: Learning Loss, Collateral Damage, and Recovery in Canada’s Schools, think tank Cardus makes the case that governments, educators, and parents must recognise and respond to the deep and lasting effects of pandemic disruptions on education.

“Nearly four years after the initial global shock, the lingering consequences of the pandemic on K-12 students remains a serious and understudied problem in Canada,” says Pandemic Fallout author Dr. Paul Bennett, director of the Schoolhouse Institute and adjunct professor of education at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

As detailed in the Cardus report, author Dr. Bennett notes school closures hit some students harder than others. For instance:

  • “Learning loss is real, and a substantial learning deficit arose early in the pandemic and has persisted over time. It is widespread, affecting students from elementary grades through high school, and is more pronounced in mathematics than in reading.”
  • “The impact fell unevenly on children from low-income families, including those from racialized, Indigenous, and newcomer groups, deepening and accelerating inequities in education outcomes. Students with special needs suffered the most.”
  • “Best estimates are that students experienced a three-month shortfall due to COVID-19 school closures and have not caught up. Students in the lower socioeconomic range may be behind by as much as six-and-a-half months.”

Unlike other advanced nations, large-scale assessment research—which is used to draw reliable and comparative measures of student achievement and system-level judgments—was either suspended or limited during the pandemic across Canada. This is both shocking and critical, as without the benefit of aggregated student data, we are left to piece together the pandemic’s impact on student achievement. Importantly, this has negatively affected Canada’s longstanding reputation, as a leader in education.

Pandemic Fallout concludes with an urgent call for action.

“Consistent, reliable, and evidence-based data is needed if we are to effectively respond to the full range of the pandemic’s longer-term impacts on children, teachers, and families,” wrote Dr. Bennett. “A new Canadian education-research agenda will be necessary for that to happen. Tackling pandemic learning loss, tracking student progress, and getting students back on track are of vital and immediate strategic importance because we are still engaged in a recovery mission, with no room for complacency. Those are the biggest lessons of the pandemic education fallout for education policymakers, school district leaders, parents, teachers, and families.”

Pandemic Fallout: Learning Loss, Collateral Damage, and Recovery in Canada’s Schools is freely available online.

Daniel Proussalidis
Cardus – Director of Communications

Cardus – Imagination toward a thriving society
Cardus is a non-partisan think tank dedicated to clarifying and strengthening, through research and dialogue, the ways in which society’s institutions can work together for the common good.