Toronto

Parents worry virtual school delay could mean educational setbacks for their kids

After delays in online start dates, a lack of teachers and IT problems, frustration for parents and students is growing, and experts warn further delays in the start of virtual teacher-led classes could lead to real setbacks for students.

Parents can help kids make up for any setbacks caused by delays in online learning, expert says

James Frodyma and his wife opted for online schooling during the pandemic. But with delays, staffing shortages and technical issues, the family downloaded educational apps while they wait for teacher-led virtual classes to begin. (James Frodyma)

By Wednesday of the first week of virtual school, James Frodyma was frustrated.

The Toronto father says a combination of technical issues, a sick call, and staffing shortages meant his children, attending Grade 3, Grade 1, and junior kindergarten in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), haven't been taught a thing.

"I have 3 kids starting virtual learning today and it's a total mess," he tweeted earlier this week.

"My 3rd grader's teacher sent a message at 8:30am that he's not available today, my 1st grader has no teacher assigned and my little guy is starting JK and TDSB didn't activate his account!" the tweet continued.

"I know that it's a big learning curve for everyone, parents and children, teachers ... and even for the school board," he explained to CBC News over the phone.

"So I have sympathy for everyone, but we have three kids in the house, three different grades, and nobody's been able to get going yet."

He's just one of thousands of parents coping with the delays as the TDSB pushed the start of virtual classes back to this week. The board is scrambling to hire and train enough teachers after thousands of children switched from in-class to online learning.

And Frodyma is even starting to worry his kids might fall behind their peers attending in-person classes or in virtual school with other boards.

"They've been out of school for close to 200 days since last March break, and we're still not up and running," he said. 

Todd Cunningham, a clinical and school psychologist with the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, says Frodyma's concern is a valid one.

'The summer slide'

"We know from past research about what's called the summer slide," he explained.

"When children who either don't have access to materials due to impoverished families, or don't have the opportunity to practise if those tools are available, they do not continue ... the same gains compared to those who do have access," Cunningham told CBC Toronto, adding that teacher-led online classes are needed as soon as possible.

"In the typical summer ... those who don't have access can actually fall behind by two to three months in their reading, spelling, mathematical development," he explained.

Todd Cunningham, a clinical and child psychologist, says parents can help their children catch up as they wait for online classes to get started. (Todd Cunningham)

"We're now into seven months now that they have had disrupted education going on. And now, if we continue to have more disruptive education is happening, I think parents should be concerned about it."

Cunningham says online learning means parents will need to take a more active role in their children's education. 

"It's more important than ever that we're spending 15 minutes and reading to them. That helps with the development of vocabulary. It helps expand the knowledge. It helps them to understand genres and how language is used," he said..

"So, there's definitely going to be some work that parents should be doing with their kids to help help with this."

About the Author

Natalie Kalata

Senior Reporter, CBC News

Natalie is an award-winning senior reporter for CBC News Network and CBC The National specializing in breaking news. Whether it's a terror attack or a royal tour, she brings the stories to you. Natalie lives in Toronto with her husband and family.

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