Last week this report was posted on an open scholarship network by the author.

Pandemic Fallout: Learning Loss, Collateral Damage, and Recovery in Canada’s Schools
Paul W Bennett
Cardus Foundation
November 30, 2023

Description: An independent research report commissioned by Cardus Foundation to assess the impact of the pandemic disruption on Canada’s schools from 2020 to 2023. It delves into learning loss and collateral damage affecting the pandemic generation. Launched with a Cardus Webinar (November 30, 2023), it also provides a critical analysis of recovery initiatives and recommendations for being better prepared the next time.

The author begins the report as follows:

School lockdowns and the unscheduled default to “emergency home learning” during the COVID-19 pandemic upset the lives of some 5.7 million Canadian students and their families. Schools across the country toggled between online and in-person learning as education authorities, acting mostly on public-health directives, imposed“circuit-breaking” quarantines and struggled to provide a modicum of “continuous learning.”1 Nearly four years after the initial global shock, a new form of “long COVID” has been diagnosed—“a substantial overall learning deficit” affecting the entire pandemic generation of school children.2

1 See T. Vaillancourt et al., “Children and Schools During COVID-19 and Beyond: Engagement and Connection ThroughOpportunity,” Royal Society of Canada, August 2021,; P.W. Bennett, “Righting the Education Ship: Learning from the Powerful Lessons of the Pandemic,” Macdonald-Laurier Institute, April 18, 2023,

2 See B. Walsh, “The Other Long Covid,” Vox, February 21, 2023,; B.A. Betthäuser, A.M. Bach-Mortensen, and P. Engzell, “A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Evidence on Learning During the COVID-19Pandemic,” Nature Human Behaviour 7, no. 3 (2023): 375–85,

While there is much to be concerned about when it comes to the educational response to the pandemic (and where schools are in terms of preparation for the next time), this introduction highlights the problems with how this conversation plays out all too often.

1. This notion of learning loss is disingenuous at best, and educational negligence at worse.  The basic premise of this item is that provinces have established a set of standards, and students are behind or failed to learn or suffered learning loss (pick your cliche) because they haven’t had the opportunity to be exposed to the same volume of material as they would have during the 2018-19 school year. But these standards are just a construct. These same provinces could just as easily look through their standards, determine which ones are necessary for curriculum continuity (e.g., what does a student need to learn in grade four mathematics to be able to have success in grade five mathematics), and what standards were added because they were age appropriate things the province decided it wanted a knowledgeable citizen to know. The reality is that the former is critical for teachers to cover each and every year, but the latter is something that teachers could exclude if there simply wasn’t time to get to them.  The fact that four years after the initial pandemic disrupted school years – after teachers lost 25% to 30% of the 2019-20 school year, lost 5%-15% of the 2020-21 school year, and even lost some of the of the 2021-22 school year in some jurisdictions – provinces have expected teachers to have covered 100% of the standards in each year is simply dishonest. No province came out before the 2020-21 school year and said to teachers, “We understand you lost a significant chunk of last year, here’s what your students should have learned last year. If they don’t have at least this, start here. Next, this is what we believe they have to learn this year. Once you know your students have caught up from last year, this is what we need to make sure they learn this year. Anything else you’re able to get to, that’s just great.” But no province did that prior to the 2020-21 school year. They also did not do it before the 2021-22 school year or the 2022-23 school year. I’d suggest that commentators, policymakers, and – in particular – politicians have a vested interest in manufacturing a crisis around “learning loss.”

2. The implication that “emergency home learning” was the cause of said “learning loss” is a red herring at best, disingenuous at worse – and only serves to miss the problem.  Poorly planned and poorly executed instruction does contribute to a lack of learning – regardless of modality.  As the Canadian eLearning Network has documented in a detailed fashion over multiple reports how poorly planned and delivered the “emergency home learning” was during the pandemic.  Essentially, there has been a lot of documented evidence worldwide that teachers were not prepared to pivot to remote learning during the pandemic.  Similarly, there is also evidence that distance/online learning was absent from teacher preparation programs – including in Canada.  This reality is why there are calls for reforms to teacher education to address this oversight.  The true problem is simply that teachers have not been prepared for the realities of teaching in a world where schooling can become disrupted for short or long periods of time due to extreme weather, natural disasters, pandemics, and other global factors.

3. Even if the “emergency home learning” was well planned and well executed, the reality was that still wouldn’t have impacted the students’ inability to learn because they were worried about family members and friends dying, or the panic created from large portions of the public so ignorant to scientists, medical professionals, and the fields of science and medicine in general.  add to that a lack of parental understanding of their role in “emergency home learning,” a digital divide in terms of both devices and connectivity, and a growing inability of parents to be in a position to support their child’s learning because of neo-liberal fiscal policies that have created the largest income disparity in modern history.

Unfortunately, these issues aren’t addressed in the report.  While the author promises that the report “identifies the most effective strategies in closing the persistent learning gap in post-pandemic times… [and] provides plenty of lessons for education policymakers, school-district leaders, parents, teachers, and families”, the only real recommendations provided in the conclusion are:

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. 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.

A focus on standardization and testing – a strategy that has yielded horrible results south of the border in the United States.

Commentary: Pandemic Fallout – Learning Loss, Collateral Damage, and Recovery in Canada’s Schools

Tagged on:         

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *