As indicated above, the 2021-22 school year continued to be disrupted by COVID-19. While there are significant differences between traditional e-learning and the temporary remote learning that has occurred over the past three school years (Barbour et al., 2020), no reporting of K-12 distance, online, and/or blended learning in Canada would be complete without some discussion of how jurisdictions have provided those remote learning opportunities. If the pandemic response is considered in phases (see Figure 2), it is important to begin by situating the 2020-21 school year.
Figure 2. Four phases of educational response to COVID-19 in terms of remote and online learning adoption. (Barbour et al., 2020, p. 3).
The four phases were described by the authors as:
Phase 1: Rapid Transition to Remote Teaching and Learning – Institutions making an all hands on deck movement to remote delivery, often relying on synchronous video, with massive changes in just four weeks.
Phase 2: (Re)adding the Basics – Institutions must (re) add basics into emergency course transitions: course navigation, equitable access including reliable computer and broadband, support for students with disabilities, and academic integrity.
Phase 3: Extended Transition During Continued Turmoil – Institutions must be prepared to support students for a full term, and be prepared for online delivery – even if starting as face-to-face.
Phase 4: Emerging New Normal – This phase would see unknown levels of online learning adoption, likely higher than pre-COVID-19 days, but Institutions would have new levels of technology and support to reliably support students.
In March and April 2020, schools in all jurisdictions were forced into Phase 1 in an effort to simply provide some measure of continuity of learning for K-12 students all across the country. At some point during the Spring of 2020, most, if not all, jurisdictions were able to transition to Phase 2, where we saw teachers and students using the tools ‘(re) added’ in an effort to replicate the classroom experience (see Nagle et al., 2020a for a complete description of the emergency remote learning response that occurred at the end of the 2019-20 school year).
The Summer of 2020 should have allowed jurisdictions time to prepare their schools to enter Phase 3, a period of transition. Phase 3, often referred to as a toggle term, is when schools are able to provide in person learning, remote learning, or some combination of the two – depending on the local epidemiology of the virus – at levels where they can provide an equivalent student experience regardless of modality. However, the reality was that few jurisdictions used the early end to the 2019-20 school year, the Summer 2020 break, or delayed Fall 2020 openings to start to really leverage their existing e-learning resources from traditional distance, online, and blended learning programs to better prepare for remote learning during the 2020-21 school year (see Nagle et al., 2020b for a complete description of the planning for and implementation of the Fall 2020 start to the school year). As Nagle et al. (2021a) concluded, “the reality was that some jurisdictions did not put in place the necessary planning or preparation to allow the 2020-21 school year to proceed in the expected ‘toggle term’ fashion – as envisioned by Phase 3” (p. 3). In fact, for many jurisdictions the entire 2020-21 school year was spent in varying states of Phase 2 (with some jurisdictions even reverting back to Phase 1 at times).
2021-22 School Year – Lessons Learner Largely Ignored
The 2021-22 school year saw the continuation of putting all efforts and focus to in-person instruction, again with minimal focus on preparing for the ‘toggle’ described in Phase 3. Indeed, with continuing disruptions and school closures, such as the October 2021 public employee’s strike in New Brunswick (Brown & April, 2021), the argument could be made that few jurisdictions were even thinking about a ‘new normal’ and the ability to actually pivot swiftly between in-school and remote learning with limited impact on student engagement and learning. In Ontario, in the government’s guide to reopening schools (Davidson, 2021), school boards were required to consider remote learning when schools closed due to inclement weather. In short, the need to effectively plan for and train teachers for a model of ‘toggling’ between in-person schooling and remote learning could not have been more clear.
There were several specific examples in the 2021-22 school year where jurisdictions provided detail and direction in their announced plans for the 2021-22 school year. For example, both Nunavut and the Yukon Ministries published detailed and descriptive plans, offering a variety of instructional options to accommodate all possibilities associated with a realistic understanding of the toggle nature of the 2021-22 school year. Nunavut’s 35-page document outlined a variety of strategies to prevent the introduction of COVID-19 into schools, how to respond when COVID-19 is detected in the school, how to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 once present, and how to address potential learning disruption to individual students, classes, or the entire school (Nunavut Department of Education, 2021a). Further, recognizing that the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years were both disrupted and that unequal levels of learning may have occurred, the Nunavut Department of Education (2021b) released Learning to Be Together Again Support for Nunavut Schools in 2021-22, which began with a focus on ‘recovery learning,’ or the “responsive process that enables students to transition back to in-class learning, while addressing mental and physical well-being and student achievement” (p. 5). The goals of recovery learning were to determine where students were in their understanding and then to offer students flexible avenues to help them achieve where they need to be. In addition to the recovery learning aspects, the document also focused on how to incorporate blended learning and remote learning – depending on the local epidemiology.
Similarly, Yukon Education (2021) in their School during COVID-19: Guidelines for the 2021–22 School Year provided clear guidelines for “What school looks like for ALL students” and “What school looks like at individual schools” in the case of 100%, 50%, 20% and 0% school capacity. Essentially, there were detailed descriptions for the public health measures in place for in-person learning, how schools would operate and learning would occur when there was a need for hybrid learning with half capacity and very low capacity, and then the planning needed for remote learning to occur. Additionally, even when there was no disruption, the document outlined measures that would be undertaken to incorporate more blended learning into the classroom, which it was argued would make hybrid learning and remote learning less of an adjustment. These types of plans were much more realistic in terms of how the 2021-22 school year did progress, as compared to the perspective that “students must return to class… barring ‘only the most catastrophic of circumstances’” (CBC News, 2021, para. 1). In fact, other than Saskatchewan, Yukon was the only jurisdiction that opened schools in January as scheduled and without any additional measures or remote learning requirement. This does suggest that the plans in the Yukon did allow the toggling between in-person learning and remote learning.
Additionally, it is also worth noting that there were some examples of specific moves to support the ability of teachers and schools to ‘toggle.’ For example, when the 2021-22 school year launched in Nova Scotia, 75% of parents surveyed reported having reliable bandwidth in their homes based on improvements made the year before (Montreuil et al., 2021) and technology was distributed in instances where it was not already available. Additionally, this connectivity was coupled with a clear direction to upskill teachers, along with the provision of provincial online tools and curriculum resources that were made available to all teachers with some designed for parents as well. In fact, Nova Scotia arguably was one of the only jurisdictions that demonstrated the ability to ‘toggle’ between learning modalities and adapt to changing circumstances as described in Phase 3 of the pandemic response.
In stark contrast, after the Ontario Ministry of Education announced that all school boards in the province would offer a remote learning option during the 2021-22 school year, the concurrent teaching or hybrid learning model that emerged in 2020-21 was the sole remote learning option planned for by many boards (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2021; Wilson, 2021). While many boards already offered optional online learning programs that were quickly doubling in size, some boards were unable to offer an online program that covered the full curriculum (King, 2021; Simcoe County District School Board, 2021). Further, many school boards lacked the necessary funding to create or offer an online or remote learning program (Wong, 2021). In essence, the hybrid learning model was the only way that many school boards were able to meet the Ministry’s remote learning policy requirement within the board’s financial means. Even before the start of the new school year, the hybrid instructional model had fallen under criticism (Stewart, 2021) and teachers unions spoke out about its negative impact on both teachers and student learning (Fox, 2021).
Given the epidemiological realities of a pandemic, any pandemic, it should have been expected that the 2021-22 school year would be another disrupted year of year schooling. However, politicians and policymakers across the country – with only a few exceptions – continued to rely upon a framework that planned for in-person learning with few efforts to mitigate the potential for disruption. Further, when disruption inevitably occurred, politicians and policymakers relied upon the ‘sweat equity’ of school level teachers and administrators to overcome their lack of adequate planning and preparation (Bayrami, 2022; Bocking, 2022; Campbell et al., 2022; Fédération du personnel de l’enseignement privé, 2022; Hodgson-Bautista et al., 2022; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2020, 2021). This failure on the part of many jurisdictions does not bode well on their ability to be in a position to toggle between various states of in-person and remote learning during the 2022-23 school year or their ability to transition into the Phase 4 or the ‘Emerging New Normal.’
 Taken from LaBonte et al. (2022) from pages 15-17.