Ontario schools will receive an additional $35 million for reading supports and summer school for children who have struggled with learning loss during the pandemic, sources say.
On Thursday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce will announce the funding along with the annual grants for student needs — known as GSNs — for boards for the 2022-23 school year.
The pandemic-related supports include $25 million for reading assessment and intervention programs as well as a $10-million boost to summer learning, which is on top of the estimated $33.5 million already budgeted for the second year of the program. Another $1.4 million is being set aside to expand online math tutoring.
While experts say there is no doubt Ontario students have experienced learning loss during the pandemic — after having learned online more than any other jurisdiction in North America and much of Europe — there is no comprehensive tracking.
In other jurisdictions, students have been found to be up to three months behind, especially in reading, and they were learning online for much less time.
The Toronto District School Board found a nine percentage point drop in Grade 1 student reading levels for students learning online, and a three percentage point drop for those learning in-person.
Research and advocacy group People for Education has compiled a look at what all provinces are doing to help schools address pandemic challenges, and found that “while all provinces and territories have detailed safety strategies for schools, few have articulated a vision or guidelines to manage, assess, or respond to the educational impact of COVID-19, and none have allocated the substantial funding true recovery and renewal will require.”
People for Education said just four of the country’s provinces and territories — Quebec, Nunavut, British Columbia and Yukon — have “developed comprehensive documents that provide both guidelines and goals to support students and staff as they deal with the ongoing impacts of the pandemic.”
It is calling on the federal government to create an advisory table on public education — something teachers’ unions have also advocated for — and “extend funding to provinces, territories and First Nations with a multi-billion dollar, multi-year ‘education recovery fund’ to support planning, evidence-gathering, assessments, increased numbers of staff, and vital resources.”
On Thursday, Lecce will also release the GSNs, which for the 2021-22 school year were $25.6 billion — which did not include COVID-19-related funding — and amounted to about $12,686 per student, up from $12,525 the year prior.
Last year, Ontario spent about $62 million for summer learning and $20 million for early reading assessments.
Last year, leading pediatric experts said children needed significant support to help close the pandemic learning gaps.
In an April 2021 letter to Premier Doug Ford, the Canadian Pediatric Society said “as pediatricians, we have seen the devastating effects the pandemic has had on children and youth,” including mental health issues as well as “academic regression, including school leaving and diminished literacy levels; significant decreases in physical activity and increases in screen time; missed or delayed developmental screenings … (and) widening inequities, particularly among racialized children and youth, and families where parents cannot work from home.”