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Education researcher urges immediate action to address COVID slide

Last Updated Sep 7, 2021 at 8:54 pm MDT

CALGARY – Back to school this year should come with a new message, according to researchers.

Have fun but focus.

Some worry students have slid so far due to COVID-19 — it could have long-term impacts if not addressed immediately.

“I am very concerned that if we don’t do that right away, we will end up in a situation where we’ll have too many children going to later grades with reading problems and having other sorts of difficulties,” said George Georgiou, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Alberta.

Georgiou is researching how reading levels have been impacted. He found there was no slide for kids in Grades 4 and up — but a very different story for kids in Grades 1 to 3.

“They had about eight to 12 months behind grade level on average.”


Studies show the losses in mathematics are generally even bigger.

Long term impacts are hard to measure — but some Ontario researchers took a stab — estimating that students will earn about one per cent less for each month of skill loss they experienced.

Combined — it’s expected to take a .5 per cent bite out of Canada’s national income, dropping the GDP by $1.6 trillion.

But both Georgiou and a Calgary education professor say it’s not doom and gloom.

“I’d like to think that, that is sort of worst-case scenario,” said Jodi Nickel, an education professor at Mount Royal University. “In the same way they show the COVID models, and they say ‘without intervention, this is how many cases we would have,’ well I would like to think in education, it’s similar that, with intervention, the results will not be as catastrophic as they predict.”

Nickel says skilled teachers can get students’ resilient brains back on track.

“I think we also need to be careful to not be overly dramatic about it. Brains are resilient. They will catch up. This has been an unusual disruption but I think they’ll be okay.”

She says targeted and one-on-one instruction will be key.

Alberta modelling suggests the number of students who will need intensive academic support will double from pre-COVID years.