From pre-school, elementary school to high school, students have been feeling increasingly ‘stressed’, ‘anxious’ and ‘worried’. Their schedules and curriculum have changed several times over the course of the pandemic – and it is taking its toll. Since the first cases of Covid-19 in schools were reported in Quebec, students have experienced complete shutdowns of schools, classroom ‘bubbles’ and physical distancing rules, rotating schedules, mandatory wearing of face masks, quarantines and more. Adapting to all the changes and not knowing what will come next is creating much anxiety for them. It is unprecedented.
As of Thursday October 29th, Quebec reported 1533 schools with at least one confirmed case of Covid-19 since the start of the school year – and 869 of them are presently dealing with active cases. The number of diagnosed infections among students and staff has risen to a total of 6973, with 2388 active cases (2,070 in the public sector and 318 in private education).
Teachers and school staff in the province do not only have to deal with their own stress and worries, but those of their students who are confused and overwhelmed by all the changes. However, they are trying to find new ways to make sure their education continues, by adjusting their classroom and lesson plans in the most effective ways possible.
CBC News received almost 2000 responses to a questionnaire they sent out to approximately 22,000 school ‘staffers’ in eastern Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, asking specifically for teachers to respond – and more than 2,000 did. Another questionnaire sent to education professionals in Quebec last August (by CBC Montreal and Radio-Canada) also received close to 2,000 responses – and they echoed those of their counterparts. Granted anonymity, their statements offer some interesting insights on how students have been doing since the schools reopened.
An elementary school teacher from the Outaouais area was quoted as saying, “We made our priority their mental health and don’t follow the curriculum like we would in a normal year…. this way we can catch up on things missed last year without rushing and stressing them out.” A high school teacher in the Laurentians wrote in the questionnaire, “I’m seeing a lot of fragility… anxiety, more frequent crying”. Another teacher from the Mauricie said, “The students are not ready to learn. They have cognitive overload… basic lessons take three to four times longer this year.”
Over 500 teachers offered descriptions of ‘alternative teaching strategies’ where they were seeing success. An elementary school teacher from the Eastern Townships wrote, “I started a discussion period every morning so students can vent their frustrations, their pain, their joys, their pride.” A teacher from Montreal wrote, “I ask them to speak about their experiences and I listen to them express themselves in order to adjust my pedagogical methods or orient them toward the appropriate services.” They are also coming up with new ideas and ways to help students. “Our school has bought board games for each classroom, wrote a Montreal high school teacher, “So the second half of lunch they have fun activities.”
On Wednesday October 28th, Quebec announced they are increasing funding for youth mental health services by $25 million. “The increase in anxiety and psychological distress is an issue that greatly concerns me,” said Quebec’s Junior Health Minister Lionel Carmant. Whether it will be enough and how long the pandemic will last and affect our lives, remains to be seen.