Alberta students still playing catchup after struggling to learn in the pandemic

Private tutoring, upgrading courses, studying through the summers — these are some of the methods Alberta students are using to catch up on learning after struggling during the pandemic.

Some schools offering high school upgrading are seeing increased enrolment

Ezren McConnell, left, and Gabriel Buckberrough, right, both say learning during the pandemic negatively impacted their grades. (Clyde McConnell, submitted by Gabriel Buckberrough)

Private tutoring, upgrading courses, studying through the summers — these are some of the methods Alberta students are using to catch up on learning after struggling during the pandemic. 

Starting in the spring of 2020, when classes first went online for most schools in the province to contain the spread of COVID-19, students fluctuated between online and in-person learning.

For recent high school graduate Ezren McConnell, that seriously impacted their ability to learn.

McConnell said their grades were "pretty good" before spring 2020 but their mental health and grades took a hit during the pandemic.

"I wasn't someone who had a very easy time learning online. And so those periods of online learning made it hard for me to absorb what they were trying to teach," said McConnell.

This fall, McConnell is going back to school to upgrade some of their high school core courses to get a better shot at making it into the post-secondary program of their choosing.

They are among many recent high school graduates who are upgrading high school courses.

At Bow Valley College enrolment in courses for high school upgrading has gone up 21 per cent since the 2019 academic year.

Enrolment in courses for high school upgrading at Bow Valley College has gone up 21 per cent since the 2019-20 academic year. (David Bell/CBC)

"Overall, our learners that are coming here have a goal in mind and whether that goal be on completion of a high school diploma or that goal be some type of post-secondary entrance, we're seeing strong demand in both areas," said Robert Straub, associate dean for the School of Foundational Learning at Bow Valley College.

The Calgary Board of Education says high school upgrading with Chinook Learning Services begins in early September, and staff are expecting more students than last year to register.

"We are seeing a significant increase in the number of students booking registration appointments with Chinook Learning Services compared to the same point in our registration period last August. There are 158 more appointment bookings for this registration session than there were at the same point last year," the CBE wrote in a statement.

"Appointments typically do result in registrations, so we are anticipating an increase in enrolment in our in-person classes over last year."

They added, "with a week left to go in the registration process, we expect between 800 to 1,000 students enrolled in classes at our two locations."

Other upgrading schools in Calgary, such as SAIT Polytechnic and Mount Royal University, have not seen notable increases in upgrading enrolment.

Anxiety over catching up

Banff high school student Gabriel Buckberrough is entering Grade 12 this fall.

Looking ahead, he's worried about how he will perform in post-secondary after a bumpy few years of learning.

"Like, we're applying for university and we haven't learned the things that were lost," said Buckberrough.

He says he spent the summer working ahead on math problems so that he wouldn't fall behind in Grade 12 and have to upgrade later.

On top of struggling with course material, Buckberrough said his mental health suffered, too.

David Chan is the owner of MathPro Math Tutoring, which has six locations in Calgary and works with 300 to 400 students a year.

Chan, who also teaches at a post-secondary level, says the "intensity of help" students require has increased over the past two years.

He believes switching between online learning and in-person learning caused students to disengage from their curricula.

"They basically weren't able to master their own will to learn, to study," he said.

Alberta Teachers' Association president Jason Schilling says teachers have asked for more support in the classroom over the past two years. (David Bajer/CBC)

Teachers have also asked for extra support to help students catch up on learning in the past two years, said Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers' Association.

"There is a concern by teachers generally about the last couple of years," he said.

Teachers have seen an increased need for mental health support for students, too, he added.

"There's a lot of things that we've seen happen in the last two years that have been amplified through the pandemic for our students' needs," said Schilling.

"We need to address those needs so that teachers are being able to meet them."


Jennifer Dorozio

Reporter & Associate Producer

Jennifer Dorozio is a local journalist from Calgary, Alta. She ran a pop-up CBC news bureau in Lethbridge in winter 2022 covering news in southern Alberta.


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