This past Thursday, John Watson of Evergreen Education Group (i.e., the folks behind the American version of this project) posted a blog entry entitled The newest terrible idea. The entry itself is about the use of non-unionized substituted teachers delivering synchronous and asynchronous remote learning as a union busting measure during a teachers’ strike, but John ends the entry by stating:
Aside from work stoppages, other circumstances arise (snow days, natural disasters, pandemics, etc.) where teachers and students may not be able to meet in person. Districts would benefit by being prepared with a plan for transitioning to high quality online learning options in these situations. Providing all teachers, families, and stakeholders with communication plans and some training, based on researched best practices, for teaching and learning in online learning environments are a necessity for ensuring continuity of learning during these temporary circumstances.
As a supplement to this entry, our project’s lead researcher wrote his own commentary on his personal blog where he expanded on this issue by quoting from numerous examples over the past century (but mostly from the past 10-15 years) that were presented in our Understanding Pandemic Pedagogy: Differences Between Emergency Remote, Remote, and Online Teaching special report, highlighting instances where this kind of preparation would have been useful (and instances where it was undertaken). He concluded by asking:
Why can’t these authorities engage in better planning to address short-term and long-term school closures?
This is a legitimate question, and one where it seems we have often been unable to learn from our own mistakes. For example, Barbour (2022) wrote:
Similarly, the SARS outbreak in 2003 also closed four schools in Canada’s largest jurisdiction – the Toronto District School Board. Interestingly, reports at the time suggested that the “district didn’t implement a full-scale virtual-learning program. But they did gather online learning links from the Canadian Ministry of Education on the district’s Web site for access to material supplementing students’ classwork” (Borja, 2003, para. 15). The superintendent was also quoted as saying, “we had homework provisions [online] for these kids…. They need to keep up with their classwork and keep engaged” (para. 17).
….following the SARS outbreak in Canada, Christensen and Painter (2004) summarized an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (2003) by stating:
whether the right structure, both medical and political, was in place for fighting epidemics like SARS. It questions whether the local and provincial health authorities had the training and the resources they needed and the proper surveillance and reporting system in place (p. 37).
One could replace the word ‘medical’ with ‘educational,’ ‘health authorities’ with ‘school authorities,’ and ‘surveillance and reporting’ with ‘teaching and learning;’ and the sentiment would continue to be accurate.
Whether the right structure, both educational and political, was in place for fighting epidemics like SARS. It questions whether the local and provincial school authorities had the training and the resources they needed and the proper teaching and learning system in place.
For example, in their report Learning from SARS: Renewal of Public Health in Canada, the only time the word ‘school’ appears is to describe the schools that were closed due to the outbreak, and then the role of closing schools to contain a future outbreak (Health Canada, 2003). There was no discussion at all to how continuity of learning could be provided for K-12 students when public health authorities decided to close the schools, or the potential impact on children of these closures. (pp. 10-11)
Did we learn from that experience? As a part of a report entitled COVID-19 and Education Disruption in Ontario: Emerging Evidence on Impacts the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table calculated the number of weeks schools were closed from March 14, 2020 to May 15, 2021 in jurisdictions across Canada and revealed.
Figure 2. Provincial and Territorial-Level Elementary School Closures in Canada, from March 14, 2020, to May 15, 2021
School closures are defined as the suspension of in-school, face-to-face instruction. Only public school closures are presented. Municipal and regional school closures are not presented. School closures due to holidays are not presented. Partial school closures and blended learning models are not presented. Information presented is approximate. Sourced from multiple Canadian news outlets, provincial/territorial government websites and other online sources announcing COVID-19 related school closures.
Figure 3. Provincial and Territorial-level Secondary School Closures in Canada, from March 14, 2020, to May 15, 2021
School closures are defined as the suspension of in-school, face-to-face instruction. Only public school closures are presented. Municipal and regional school closures are not presented. School closures due to holidays are not presented. Partial school closures and blended learning models (which are more common in secondary school) are not presented. Information presented is approximate. Sourced from multiple Canadian news outlets, provincial/territorial government websites and other online sources announcing COVID-19 related school closures.
So the province that had the only experience with having to close schools due to the SARS pandemic in 2003-04 was the same jurisdiction who’s response to the COVID pandemic 17 years later resulted in the most weeks of school closures in the country. Maybe instead of asking the question of “Why can’t these authorities engage in better planning to address short-term and long-term school closures?” we should be asking how many more times do schools have to be impacted by short-term and long-term closures before we learn any lessons on how to address these issues?
Barbour, M. K. (2022). Looking back to see ahead: An analysis of K-12 distance, online, and remote learning during the pandemic. Journal of Digital Social Research, 4(2). https://jdsr.se/ojs/index.php/jdsr/article/view/107
Barbour, M. K., LaBonte, R., Kelly, K., Hodges, C., Moore, S., Lockee, B., Trust, T., Bond, A., & Hill, P. (2020a). Understanding pandemic pedagogy: Differences between emergency remote, remote, and online teaching. Canadian eLearning Network. https://k12sotn.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/understanding-pandemic-pedagogy.pdf
Borja, R. R. (2003, May 21). Online learning fills void in nations coping with SARS. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/online-learning-fills-void-in-nations-coping-with-sars/2003/05
Canadian Medical Association Journal. (2003). Editorial lessons from SARS. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 168(11), 1381. https://www.cmaj.ca/content/168/11/1381.short
Christensen, T., & Painter, M. (2004). The politics of SARS–rational responses or ambiguity, symbols and chaos? Policy and Society, 23(2), 18-48. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1449-4035(04)70031-4
Gallagher-Mackay, K., Srivastava, P., Underwood, K., Dhuey, E., McCready, L., Born, K. B., Maltsev, A., Perkhun, A., Steiner, R., Barrett, K., Sander, B., & Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table. (2021, June 4). COVID-19 and education disruption in Ontario: Emerging evidence on impacts. Science Briefs of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, 2(34). https://doi.org/10.47326/ocsat.2021.02.34.1.0
Health Canada. (2003). Learning from SARS: Renewal of public health in Canada. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/phac-aspc/migration/phac-aspc/publicat/sars-sras/pdf/sars-e.pdf