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The return to remote emergency learning was not inevitable

| Public education, Social Justice, Teaching profession

The return to remote emergency learning was not inevitable

Sam Hammond, CTF/FCE President

Here we go again. Following months of progress aided by vaccinations, the shackles of this pandemic began to loosen allowing Canadians to gradually return to activities, school, work, and social lives that were put on hold to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep our most vulnerable protected. It was working until it wasn’t.

The combination of a highly transmissible variant and complacency over November and December have us right back to where we started. It didn’t have to be this way.

Now exhausted healthcare workers, pulled from overdue leave, are faced with a potential flood of patients. Education workers have been forced to revert to crisis mode to ensure teaching and learning still happens while trying to keep illness at bay. Both public systems have reached their breaking points and we cannot afford for them to collapse. But the message from too many governments to us is “you’re on your own.”

Instead of hitting the circuit breaker before the holidays, elected officials opted to wait it out instead of implementing measures to keep society open and running. Now, we all suffer the consequences.

As our schools close their doors and students open laptops and turn on tablets, The Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF/FCE) sees this overnight pivot to emergency remote learning as a failure. We know that teaching and learning virtually is no substitute for in-person publicly funded public education. For our most vulnerable children and youth, the repercussions of closed schools are dire.

Countless families across Canada do not have equitable access to WiFi and devices; families that depend on school food programs are left scrambling to keep their children well nourished; and children and youth living in challenging home environments are cut-off from support. We know that the isolation caused by previous school closures and education interruptions created a mental health epidemic among teenagers, and the mental health and well being of teachers and education workers is at an all-time low. And I know from the messages that I receive and the conversations I have that parents are exhausted. No one is happy.

This is not a situation that any teacher or education worker wanted to return to. What we are experiencing at this moment is the result of nearly two years of inaction and ill preparedness on the part of governments. To get schools reopened and Canada’s COVID recovery back on track, the CTF/FCE calls on provincial, territorial, federal governments to:

  • Provide N95 masks to teachers, education workers, and students
  • Prioritize booster shots for teachers and education workers
  • Improve school ventilation
  • Reduce class sizes to allow for physical distancing and actual cohorting
  • Mandate contact tracing in schools
  • Mandate the reporting of COVID-19 cases
  • Provide adequate quantities of rapid antigen tests to all education workers and families
  • Consult and engage with education stakeholders when making decisions 

The CTF/FCE has been calling for most of these actions since August of 2020. Based on the evidence related to COVID-19 and our professional experience in schools, we know what is key to keeping school buildings safely open. Emergency remote learning is a last resort to keep our education systems afloat, not an easy go-to option to cover up inaction.

To parents, I need to say – not only that we hear you, but also that we understand your frustrations. Many of us are parents having to juggle the constraints of work and educating our kids. We know that this virus has not affected children and youth as it has older generations, and we are watching as epidemiologists suggest that this variant is less harmful than others. However, a positive test still means isolation, which means school and work are put on hold.

To quote my friend and colleague Patrick Maze, President of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, “It’s also unfair for airlines to cancel flights, but if they can’t staff the flights appropriately to ensure passenger and crew safety, they need to be cancelled. Same thing goes with students and staff in our schools.”

The CTF/FCE and its members across Canada have never stopped working to advocate for best practices and safety measures, and we won’t stop. The time has come for the federal government to intervene further to help ensure the future of our education systems for current and future generations

The Omicron variant, and the whirlwind efforts with which provinces and territories have responded to it clearly illustrate that we need national support on key issues of provincial jurisdiction. The federal government has stepped up with funding for rapid tests and improved ventilation systems, but publicly funded public education needs more. It needs a national response to a national crisis.

The Canadian Teachers’ Federation

Founded in 1920, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation is the national voice for the teaching profession. As the national alliance of provincial and territorial teacher organizations, the CTF/FCE represents over 365,000 elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada. 

Media contact

Andrew King,
Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF/FCE)
Mobile: 819-213-7847