Letter to the Editor
Dr. Geraldine Schwartz
In the more than 4 decades that I have been a teacher, counsellor, post-secondary professor, and psychologist, I have not seen anything like the COVID-19 pandemic effect on the education and learning mastery of children, youth and young adults. Indeed, public media, such as the CBC, as well as professional journals in Psychology and Education are raising the alarm that for some learners the deficit in skills and knowledge that occurred during the COVID-19 in-class disruption of education could become a life-lasting problem. They note that learners with special needs across the whole spectrum from learning disabled…to autistic…to gifted, may be the most seriously affected, however, it is important to note that all students are included in this warning.
This unusual phenomenon requires an explanation so that action may be taken to address the issue before the problem becomes chronic and seriously affects confidence, trust and even mental health for a whole cohort of students.
Here are the facts: you may know that each grade level from Kindergarten to grade 12 has specific curriculum in skills and knowledge that are delivered as routine. Students succeed as they meet mastery expectations of these skills. The next grade platform is based on the assumption of this mastery and the teachers proceed to teach the curriculum of the next grade from that point. These new concepts and skills are generally taught over the fall and winter semesters and consolidated in the third semester. Students who do not take part in education and cognitive activities over the 2.5 months of summer break, experience what is called the ‘summer slide’, where they lose 2 – 3 months of the previous grade’s skills as they start the first semester of the next grade. Most students catch up with a quick review but students with learning differences who are slow to consolidate new skills and have built-in deficits from previous grades, struggle to achieve the expected mastery. They develop gaps in basic steps and structure that continue to haunt them throughout school and beyond. This year the problem is exacerbated since many students have not learned the skill in the first place.
With that in mind, consider what happened during the pandemic when in-school learning was profoundly affected due to missing two consolidating third semesters in a row, four school semesters, and two ‘summer slides’ before September 2021. This means that for almost 18 months, regular routine educational delivery of learning may not have taken place, and mastery of virtual screen-based learning has been variable, so that it is not clear whether the skills of the previous grade are at mastery before the next grade level curriculum is taught.
In September, students may present themselves with skills as much as 1.5 – 2 years behind the platform they need to master the skills of their next grade. This will produce serious education delivery challenges to in-class based learning, and teachers in every classroom so affected will face difficulties they have not previously seen or have been trained to address. Skill gaps and deficits will interfere with success, particularly in the senior high school grades where students do not have time to recover before they enter the job market or post-secondary classes, especially in science and math. Without the consolidation of skills expected in their university classes they will have difficulty succeeding.
In addition to educational factors, students have missed close emotional and social experiences with their classmates, cognitive development in thinking, routine practice in focus and attention, and after school extracurricular activities in sports and the arts. This too produces profound effects whose scope is still unknown as this cohort returns to school. Of course, the effect will be variable and the whole range of outcomes can be expected. These too are still unknown.
At the same time, post-pandemic education will not be unaffected by the past 18 months of the school journey and the important fact is to understand what has happened and to address it directly in the public and private schools. Suggested action should be all-hands-on-deck, surveying the mastery of previous level of skills and setting up group teachings and learning pods to address this issue before students become discouraged and lose their confidence as learners without realizing why they are not as good a learner as in previous grades.
Special attention for ‘special needs’ students need to be set up for children whose learning differences put them at a particular disadvantage. Parents are on the frontline here as they will see their young people’s response in terms of mental and even physical health and wellbeing. In this case, knowing what is causing their student’s distress at least provides a route to garner whatever extra help they can get or give to address this problem in their individual cases.
At the Vancouver Learning Centre, onsite or online, a specially trained faculty experienced in ‘catch-up’ teaching throughout grades K-12, will be delivering one-to-one a robust post-COVID-19 pandemic response. A special program has been put in place called a ‘3-Pillar Strategy’ to provide new skills in thinking and meeting challenges in learning called enhanced thinking. The VLC advantage begins with a full skill-by-skill grade by grade academic survey to determine what essential academic skills are not in place to mastery levels for the grade. Teaching these skills and filling in the gaps in learning will become the individual’s program priority. Then the 3-Pillar strategy, the teaching of enhanced thinking skills, Executive Function, Emotional Development, and Creative Thinking are integrated into each individualized program.
The Vancouver Learning Centre is a mature learning organization with decades of onsite experience. The faculty has gained the skills to deliver individualized education, one-to-one online, in the last 18 months. As a team-based organization, the VLC faculty is in an excellent position to address the post-COVID-19 pandemic, and to address the educational, cognitive, and emotional deficits and skill gaps before they become a disorder in a supportive and safe, emotionally positive enriched environment.
Dr. Geraldine Schwartz
Registered Psychologist (228)
Member of the Canadian Register of Health
Service Providers in Psychology
Senior Psychologist & Founder, Vancouver Learning Centre