15-17 year olds among the students most affected by the health crisis
While the number of cases and hospitalizations continues to increase in Quebec, young people are still battered by the COVID-19 pandemic that has lasted for two years. The face-to-face return to school, scheduled for around January 10, has been postponed to the week of January 17 for a good number of establishments in Quebec. Before this date, students will be studying at a distance. Among them, some are doing less well than others.
The Covid-19 crisis has had the effect of a bomb on education systems through the world. From the start of the crisis, in the spring of 2020, the schooling of more than one and a half billion students was interrupted due to health measures, with major consequences identified very early by Unesco.
< p>These impacts include a reduction in the social safety net for children, an exacerbation of social and educational inequalities and a clearly insufficient access to technologies.
The 2020-2021 school year, during which the majority of students were able to return to school in Quebec, was also accompanied by many challenges, the full effects of which are not yet known. We can think, for example, of the challenges related to the health and well-being of teachers and students, staff shortages, health measures put in place at school, outbreaks of cases leading to the closure of classes, even schools, online or hybrid education, new evaluation methods, etc.
Monitoring the impacts of the pandemic
We have launched a research project with the Unesco Chair in Curriculum Development (CUDC), in partnership with the Quebec Ministry of Education. We sought to describe the impacts of Covid-19 on the organization, schools, teachers and students during the 2020-2021 school year. I am the principal investigator of the grant associated with this project.
A questionnaire was sent to elementary and secondary students and teachers in two stages, in December-January and in May-June. The idea was to find out how they felt about the effects of the pandemic.
The preliminary results presented in this article concern students from the three participating school service centers (CSS). These are service centers in urban and peri-urban areas, some of which are in rural areas. Four dimensions related to the impacts of Covid-19 were assessed:
- The level of concern about various situations related to Covid-19, for example being isolated others or the health of relatives and family members;
- The level of anxiety and depression, resulting in adjustment disorders linked to excessive fears or worries, withdrawal into oneself, very reactive aggressiveness, insomnia, self-deprecation, etc.;
- Motivation, which has two complementary components: value, interest in a school subject, and expectations of success (in mathematics, French and science);
- The well-being felt at school, which manifests itself for example by good humor, calm or general appreciation of one's days.
Some groups more affected than others
Between January and June 2021, we see that primary and secondary students tend to adapt to health constraints in their school environment. The level of worry reported decreased slightly between these two times, but significantly. Girls also perceive less impact of Covid-19 in June than at the beginning of the year. Note that vaccines began to be administered massively during this period.
In addition to this overall positive trend, students with disabilities, adaptation or learning difficulties (HDAA) remain more heavily affected by Covid-19. In January, survey results already suggested more worry and less well-being among them than among their peers. At the end of the year, this situation not only remained unchanged, it was even exacerbated.
Upper secondary students also have a less positive assessment than all students when it comes to the impacts of the Covid-19. In January, they had already been identified as being more affected than the students of all the other cycles and this, for all the dimensions evaluated (worry, anxiety, motivation and well-being).
In June, that was still the case. Although their perception of the impacts of Covid-19 remained stable for most dimensions, their ability to adapt seemed less than that observed in other students. This observation may seem counterintuitive, given the improvement in the health context.
Vulnerable groups who will need appropriate assistance
In general, at the end of the year, we observed in the students a certain resilience and a good capacity for adaptation, especially in elementary school. On the other hand, at the secondary level, the improvement between January and June 2021 was less.
The study will have made it possible to target two groups of students who are more vulnerable, namely HDAA students and those in upper secondary school. . With regard to the latter, it is also important to pay special attention to the 2020-2021 graduates, who are currently at the start of their career in CEGEP or vocational training.
Indeed, their lesser adaptation to Covid-19 compared to their peers at the end of secondary school could have repercussions in this new stage of their educational path and integration of a new environment.
< p>At the end of the study, we hope that the results will encourage the implementation of appropriate support measures for students, especially vulnerable groups. For example, initiatives such as improving the offer of structured extracurricular activities or outdoor physical activities can help all students with regard to their well-being, their stress management and their socio-emotional adaptation.
For a more in-depth perspective of the impacts of Covid-19 on school environments, the rest of the project includes linking the responses to the questionnaires with those resulting from interviews with various actors from the participating CSS.
We will also analyze the academic results of students for the 2018-2019, 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years, in order to try to detect the presence of a trend. Discussions are also underway to continue the study in subsequent school years, in order to verify the longer-term impacts of Covid-19 on children and adolescents.
Patrick Charland, Full Professor/Full professor, Department of Didactics, University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM) ; Jonathan Bluteau, Ph.D. ps.éd., Associate Professor, Department of Specialized Education and Training, University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM); Marie-Hélène Bruyère, Assistant researcher, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) ; Marion Deslandes Martineau, Researcher, UNESCO Chair in Curriculum Development, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) ; Olivier Arvisais, Professor, Department of Didactics, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) , and firstname.lastname@example.org, Assistant researcher, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)
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