With more than 77% of Canadians now fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, and 83% of Canadians having received at least one dose, many parents are starting to look ahead to the upcoming school year. What can we expect in September? Will schools be fully re-opened? Will masks still be required? If case rights start to rise due to new variants, will there be a return to distance learning?
These questions are complicated by a number of factors. While the rate of new infections has dropped considerably, it is hard to know whether that drop has been caused by the country's aggressive vaccination drive, or if it is partially due to environmental factors; after all, last summer also saw a precipitous decline in COVID-19 infections.
While it is hard to predict what, exactly, the 2021-2022 school year will bring, and while the reality on the ground may be different depending on which province, municipality, and country you live in, here are a few things parents can reasonably expect to see in the coming school year.
Most Jurisdictions Want to see Schools Fully Reopen with Some Conditions
The overall goal is obviously to have education go back to normal, and to have students participate fully in in-person learning and extracurricular activities. But many Canadian provinces have been reluctant to outline detailed plans for re-opening, based on concerns about new variants that may lead to a spike in caseloads in the fall.
In the United States, on the other hand, there has been a much greater emphasis on getting back to normal as quickly as possible. New York State has already announced that it intends for education in New York to return to in-person learning.
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in May that all NYS schools would be returning to full in-person learning for 2021-2022, so parents in places like Westchester can count on getting back to the status quo.
Quebec has expressed its intention to have full in-person learning across the province, so long as they pass the threshold of 75% of children ages 12-17 receiving the vaccine.
Ontario has announced that it will be offering online remote-learning options in the coming year, but has held off on promising full classrooms and maskless learning. The Ontario opposition parties have pushed for smaller class sizes and better ventilation, and the NDP, the official opposition, have argued that a return to in-class learning should depend on full vaccination for education workers and students over 12.
This means that Canadian parents should be prepared for some degree of flexibility and adaptation as conditions develop.
Some Changes May be Permanent
From the very beginning, it has been widely understood that the pandemic may well have changed education forever. In effect, lockdowns have created the conditions for a massive social experiment in distance learning, and many of the findings of this experiment will have ramifications on how we approach education moving forward.
For years, education experts have predicted that distance learning may be the future of education more generally, but the difficulties many parents and children have experienced over the course of the pandemic have heightened our understanding of the practical challenges involved in learning outside the physical classroom.
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).