In the vibrant and multi-cultural borough of Park-Extension in Montreal, the Fraser Institute’s latest study casts a glaring spotlight on the grim consequences of COVID-19 school closures that unfolded across Canada. Spanning from 2020 to 2022, these closures have exacted a heavy toll on the lives of children, despite early indications that their advantages might be less substantial than initially believed. Entitled “The Forgotten Demographic: Evaluating the Potential Advantages and Severe Consequences of COVID-19 School Closures on Canadian Children,” this report underscores the profound and lasting impact these shutdowns have had on the educational and emotional well-being of the young generation in Canada, a concern acutely felt in the culturally rich district of Park-Extension.
When the COVID-19 pandemic initially struck in early 2020, the immediate response was to halt social activities, close schools, and shut down businesses. However, as time passed, data emerged regarding virus transmission and the real risks posed by COVID-19, particularly among different age groups. This evidence made it increasingly clear that school closures might not be necessary and could result in unintended negative consequences, especially for children.
One of the most startling revelations from the study is the prolonged duration of the school closures. Across Canada, K-12 schools remained closed for a minimum of 10 to 27 weeks, equivalent to 135 school days, depending on the province. Some schools even remained closed into 2022. This extended period of disrupted education has undoubtedly taken a toll on the academic progress of Canadian youth.
Moreover, the mental health of Canadian students has been deeply affected by these closures. Research cited in the study indicates that 64 percent of Canadians aged 15-24 reported self-perceived poor mental health during the pandemic, a figure higher than any other demographic. The isolation and disruption caused by the closures have undoubtedly contributed to this alarming increase in mental health issues among our youth.
The impact on learning loss is another concerning aspect of the school closures. Early test score data has shown a decline in student achievement following the closures, which could have long-term consequences for their educational and career prospects. Students who missed crucial classroom instruction during this period may face difficulties catching up, potentially perpetuating inequalities in educational outcomes. Furthermore, the study underscores the exacerbation of inequality resulting from school closures. When schools are closed, students lose out on essential years of basic schooling, potentially reducing their lifetime earnings. This could disproportionately affect vulnerable groups, such as girls, ethnic minorities, and disabled children, further deepening the existing disparities in the Canadian education system.
One of the most crucial pieces of evidence highlighted in the report is that children faced lower health risks from COVID-19 compared to older age groups. While protecting the health and safety of students and educators is paramount, the study suggests that policymakers did not use the most accurate and up-to-date information when deciding to close schools.
As Paige MacPherson, associate director of education policy at the Fraser Institute and co-author of the study, aptly puts it, “We won’t know the totality of the damage done by the school closures for some time, but what is clear is that governments didn’t use the best information available to them when deciding to close schools, and students have already suffered and will continue to pay the price.”
The Fraser Institute is a libertarian-conservative Canadian public policy think tank and registered charity. The institute describes itself as independent and non-partisan. It is headquartered in Vancouver, with additional offices in Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal. The institute has ties to a global network of think tanks in 87 countries, including 80 through the Economic Freedom Network. According to the January 2020 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report (Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania), Fraser is number 14 (of 8,200) in the “Top Think Tanks Worldwide” and number 1 in the “Top Think Tanks in Mexico and Canada”.