Two-and-a-half years after the start of the pandemic, Quebec still doesn’t know how classroom closures and a shift to online learning have affected students.
Quebec’s auditor general released a report Wednesday, revealing that the Ministry of Education didn’t give enough guidance to school service centers and school boards in the spring of 2020 and that teaching was unequal and disorganized for several months.
“Some high schools decided to have 50 minutes of distance learning per day, and some other high schools just didn’t have any distance learning at all,” Guylaine Leclerc told reporters after presenting her audit of the education ministry.
Leclerc’s report looked into how virtual learning was handled by Quebec during the start of the pandemic.
When it came to online teaching, her report found that “school boards had to wait until Aug. 10, five months after the pandemic started, to receive clear directives from the education ministry.”
Many service centers also did not have the necessary computers to pivot to online education, and for some, the situation persisted 18 months into the pandemic, according to the 180-page report.
‘WE WERE ALL CAUGHT UNPREPARED’
“I would describe it as typically, panic-driven. We were all caught unprepared,” said Michael Murray, Michael Murray, President of the Eastern Townships School Board.
Leclerc also criticized the department’s purchase of $42 million in video-conferencing equipment that remains largely unused.
Katherine Korakakis, who heads the English Parents Committee Association, said she wasn’t totally surprised by the findings in the report. She described the switch to online learning as a “lottery” system.
“If you were lucky enough to have a teacher who knew what they were doing, or if you were lucky enough to be in a school that had the technology you needed, the great,” Korakakis said in an interview.
“So then it became the has and have-nots,” she said. “And we saw this across the network.”
The auditor general’s report also found there were signs that pandemic measures slowed student learning.
Quebec’s Auditor General Guylaine Leclerc presents her annual report, Wednesday, December 7, 2022 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
According to the report, in 2020, “a document sent to the minister of education indicated the ‘information provided by the schools shows the high school dropout rate would be higher than in previous years.'”
Despite the warning, the education ministry is still unaware of its full effect. “Since the start of the pandemic,” read the report, “[Quebec] has not collected data on how all the measures could contribute to slower learning.”
SILENCE FROM FORMER EDUCATION MINISTER
Reacting to the auditor general’s report, Marwah Rizqy, the Liberal education critic, pointed her finger at François Legault.
“We have the premier of Quebec saying multiple times, ‘ma première priority, my first priority is education.’ Then how come you didn’t ask your own ministry about the data?” she said.
The report also found the $88 million tutoring program created by the government wasn’t based on any data about what subjects or resources students needed.
Jean-François Roberge, the former education minister, refused to answer CTV News’ questions Wednesday. His successor, Bernard Drainville, said he acknowledged that there’s a lot the ministry didn’t know.
“We’re going to have to be much better at getting the data to get the complete picture of what happened during the pandemic and the kinds of delays in learning,” Drainville said.
The auditor general recommended figuring out what kind of catch-up programs are necessary, but added, “that’s up to the ministry to know that. And what we can say is that they just don’t know.”
— With files from The Canadian Press