05 Mar Teachers and Teacher Education: We can help prepare for a flourishing post-pandemic Canada
By Dr. Sharon Wahl and Dr. Jennifer Tupper
In Canada’s K-12 sector, more than 5 million students are enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Canada’s teachers and school and district leaders mobilized to continue providing quality learning for students, regardless of their location. Teachers have played a critical role in facilitating the physical and mental health of students returning to school, communicating measures to prevent the spread of the virus and ensuring that learners are safe, supported and successful.
Despite these heroic efforts, evidence is mounting that for many students, learning is being disrupted, especially those with little or no access to technology, bandwidth, or home-based support. Asynchronous scheduling means that some learners lack social connectivity. Instruction for Francophone and minority language learners remains at risk. Black, Indigenous and learners of Colour are further disadvantaged by ongoing systemic and structural inequities. Vulnerable students who were struggling pre-pandemic are finding it more difficult to access the supports they need. Without significant measures taken to combat these worrying trends, gaps that were already in existence will continue to widen.
There is substantial evidence from previous pandemics and other disasters, both international and domestic, that teachers are key to social, economic and emotional recovery. If educators are to continue to provide the front-line services required to build and support recovery, current initiatives (such as expanding access to technology and increasing social supports for our most vulnerable students) must be extended and amplified across the education sector. If our goal is to create a Canada that does not merely recover from the pandemic, but a Canada that flourishes, then additional investment is needed.
So, what can we do and what do we need?
- We join the call from organizations such as UNICEF to ensure that teachers, school leaders and related professionals are prioritized in all provincial and territorial vaccination rollout plans, once front-line healthcare professionals and vulnerable populations have been vaccinated. Schools need healthy adults in order to remain open. Vaccinated teachers and school leaders can also promote vaccine confidence within Canadian society.
- Teachers and school leaders, supported by university-based education researchers and teacher education programs, can respond directly to the increasing physical and mental health needs of students and education colleagues using channels across teacher education-provider networks regionally and nationally. We can use our collective networks to share ideas, resources and support. Teachers can participate in community-based post-pandemic initiatives including direct collaboration with school boards and community members. Let us work together to share our understandings as we build for the future.
- Teachers, school leaders and teacher education can ensure that Indigenous education is prioritized in COVID-19 regional and national response planning and implementation. We can help with the implementation of the education calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as we negotiate the new educational landscape.
- The pandemic has clearly illustrated the socio-economic and racial divisions within Canadian society. Increased investment in teacher education is needed to support a more diverse profession that better reflects regional demographics for Indigenous, Black and People of Colour and other underserved populations.
We believe that the COVID-19 disruption has changed the public education system forever. At the core of the challenges and opportunities created by COVID-19 is how to reimagine a system of education that is currently based largely around physical schools. By harnessing the expertise of educational researchers, and by connecting front-line voices to policy makers, we can create a new educational reality that is stronger, more responsive, accessible and equitable. Going forward, Canada’s education systems must reflect the emergence of new technologies and on-line curriculum delivery, finding the correct balance between alternate delivery methods and face-to-face instruction.
How, then, do we get to “flourishing”? To stimulate resilience and transformation in a post-pandemic Canada, we need to work together. Teachers and teacher educators are in the best position to work with local, provincial and federal governments. Together, they can craft evidence-informed policies and practices that will lead to sustained improvement in education equity indicators across Canada. Together, they can provide the strong and adaptive leadership needed to ensure positive advancements in education and in the economic recovery of our country.