Students and educators in Canada should prepare for the possibility that the 2020 school year may, at this point, be over.
Across the nation, provinces have canceled classes, examinations, and graduations in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Alberta was the first to start the trend of indefinite school closures, after the premier, education minister, and chief medical officer decided on extending the closures beyond a single week or two. Soon after, Saskatchewan and British Columbia followed suit with similar measures.
Ontario and Québec have stated plans to reopen schools by March 30 and April 6 respectively; however, given the actions of the other provinces, they could very well close schools for the year as well. This means students could lose up to one-third of their school year.
“This pandemic will not end in a matter of weeks and there won’t be a clear opportunity to reopen schools, likely not until September at the earliest,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, a public health physician in Alberta.
According to Global News, Toronto epidemiologists who have been working on modeling the novel coronavirus say that shutting down schools for a month will likely not be enough to stop transmissions. They think that for social distancing and self-isolation to be effective, such measures should be continued for much longer periods; that is, months or even years.
"People should at least entertain the possibility that the school year may be done this year," said Ashleigh Tuite, a research epidemiologist at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana school of public health. "I’m hesitant to speculate what will happen in September, but it’s also possible that we’ll be dealing with a disrupted school year in September."
Tuite's team started their research in February, just shortly before the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. They are currently writing up an official report which they later intend to submit for peer-review.
Currently, their focus is on the impact of shutting down schools and implementing work-from-home protocols on the spread of the virus. The early conclusion is that infections and hospitalizations will still be at heightened levels beyond a four-week shutdown.
"We looked as far as 32 weeks. You’re still going to have a lot of people infected, and you’re still going to have a number of people requiring hospitalization beyond what we think our current health care system can support,” Tuite added.
The problem with disease modeling is that results often vary, which makes it hard to predict the future with absolute certainty. However, recent studies, including one from the Imperial College in London, says that social distancing should continue for 12 to 18 months for the best results.
"All of the models that I’ve seen say something different. All agree that in the short term, this closure of schools isn’t sufficient and we would probably be looking at a longer-term closure," recommends Jane Hefferman, the director of York University's Centre for Disease Modelling.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is ensuring Canadians that the government is following all recommendations outlined by experts. Still, he says "it could be weeks or months" before restrictions are lifted.
For now, some provinces are rolling "learn at home" programs to keep students engaged in learning. In Ontario, the Ford government has provided "high-quality, made-in-Ontario math and literacy resources" to families and students that are available online. The hope is that these initiatives will help mitigate "learning losses."
"As a father myself, I know parents always want the best for their children, and I also know from speaking to parents that many are concerned that their child is going to fall behind while schools are closed during this difficult period," said Premier Ford. "To support families and students, our government has developed a one-stop spot for at-home learning. It doesn't replace school, but offers a great alternative as we approach the end of March Break."
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