The Right to Education During the Pandemic

Teachers and Education Workers Sorting Out What Is What

Teachers and education workers across Canada, like others around the world, have been thrust into a new environment for teaching as a result of the closure of schools to curb the spread of COVID-19. Moving classes online has now become the norm at all grade levels. A big problem is that teachers and education workers want to work out how to affirm the right to education under the circumstances but are blocked from doing so because they are not being given a real say in how things proceed. Instead, they are told just to be flexible and accommodating, which translates into not speaking up when there are problems or just being critics of what is imposed on them from school boards or provincial governments. Teachers and education workers are the most flexible and accommodating when it comes to ensuring their students get the education they require. However, this does not translate into accepting measures that harm their own working conditions that they know are students' learning conditions.

It is a challenge under the circumstances to have discussion on what is taking place. One issue is to have our own perspective so as not to get overwhelmed by all the emphasis on technology and competing companies all vying to be used for delivering education in hopes of coming out on top. Each province, and even each school board, has different content delivery systems they use. As a result, there is not a common approach nor any intention to have one. From one school to the next, the approaches are different. There are also the many education related "apps" -- that are now free in many cases -- that are pushing to get everyone to sign up and use them in hopes of becoming the next big thing.

A major issue of concern for teachers and education workers is how to ensure that those youth with special needs in the classroom or challenging personal situations are not permitted to fall through the cracks in these circumstances where they lack the resources they require to participate in education. The reality of moving to online learning in one fell swoop without an organized plan to ensure that all students, teachers and education workers have the infrastructure they require so that they can fully participate in the process, was largely left up to individuals and to chance. When governments declared the closing of schools, things had not been put in place to guarantee all families had the necessary equipment, in the quantities they require, and adequate internet and technology know-how to navigate this new "classroom" space, let alone guarantee that families had the necessary supports for difficult personal or financial situations where basic needs were already tenuous before schools were closed.

Students in Grade 12 have been put into additionally challenging situations during their graduating year. Universities in Ontario, for example, continue to demand mid-term marks by April 20 to determine initial admission offers. However, this is an unrealistic demand, given that marks would only reflect in-class work up until March 13. Students and educators are concerned that the current situation will exacerbate the fact that students with greater resources and supports will have better chances to get into universities of their choice. How to affirm the right to education under the circumstances is not so straightforward. For example, should students be given a pass/fail mark? How does this affect getting into post-secondary education?

The starting point of sorting out any of these problems must be that education is a right, not a competition to divide society. Investments are required to ensure all youth continue to advance in their education and get the formation they require to make a contribution to society. First and foremost, this means investments in having more teachers and education workers to support the system as teachers, tutors and teaching assistants and others who provide specialized supports to students with high needs so that everyone can be supported under the circumstances. It also means teachers and education workers empowering themselves to put forward solutions that uphold the right to education in practice.

This article was published in

Number 22 - April 17, 2020

Article Link:
The Right to Education During the Pandemic: Teachers and Education Workers Sorting Out What Is What - Laura Chesnik


Website:   Email: