Pivot and Flex: Faculty of Education Researchers Highlight the Impacts and Inequities of the Pandemic

June 15, 2021

By Amanda Maxwell

Faculty of Education researchers pivot their ongoing research to highlight inequities exaggerated by the pandemic on vulnerable populations, gaining valuable insight into the impact of public health measures on teachers, students and their families.

For the past year, people have been forced to deal with public health measures and restrictions brought about by the global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. The effect on education is highly visible, with school closures, remote learning, and social distancing. However, impact hits further than empty classrooms and busy computer screens. Faculty of Education researchers dig deeper, pivoting their ongoing research to draw attention to these hidden impacts.

“The internet is not as accessible as we think”

Dr. Suzanne Smythe, points out that the pandemic has amplified digital inequalities that hamper equitable access to information on the internet.

Issues such as the lack of Broadband internet access as well as low connection speeds in remote and rural areas already hinder digital inclusion. The high cost of broadband is another barrier; the struggle to afford an internet connection at home prevents many from accessing important information in public health orders (PHO) to protect themselves, their families, and communities.

Through her work with community-based adult literacy organizations and communities, Dr. Smythe, along with her co-authors and community partners, found that closing community centres and libraries due to PHO disproportionately impacts already disadvantaged communities. Not only are they cut off from technology, but they’re also cut off from services. Community workers and librarians frequently provide information alongside literacy and learning supports.

However, Dr. Smythe and her co-authors found that these same community organizations have pivoted their practices.

“…educators developed a range of inventive and dynamic pedagogies oriented to social solidarity and to taking up intersectional oppressions. These ‘pandemic pedagogies’ may contribute to more equitable and inclusive social–technology relationships in a post-pandemic future.”

Smythe, S., Wilbur, A. & Hunter, E. 2021. Inventive pedagogies and social solidarity: The work of community-based adult educators during COVID-19 in British Columbia, Canada, International Review of Education, 1-21 [online first]. DOI 10.1007/s11159-021-09882-1

Rise in cyberbullying tracks rise in screen time for K-12 students  

Increased screen use and hours spent online leads to an increase in cyberbullying behaviour, notes Dr. Wanda Cassidy. In a Vancouver Sun article, she describes how cyberbullying occurs most often with students in Grades 6 to 9, and more frequently among girls as they seek to establish their social hierarchy through online relational aggression.

Although specific Canadian Covid-related cyberbullying research has not yet been published, Dr. Cassidy draws on her prior research to explain why US figures show a 70% rise in incidents during the pandemic.

“…I imagine that there’s more going on now because students are at home more, they can’t get out, they’re on their devices 24/7,” she suggests.

With one third of Canadian children and adolescents reporting having experienced cyberbulling prior to the pandemic, Dr. Cassidy believes that additional pressures are driving current online aggression. Factors such as the reduction in family income, households confined to one space, and worry about friendships due to lack of in-person contact.

“While we are all concerned about staying healthy and not contracting the virus,” Dr. Cassidy notes, “as educators, researchers, and policy makers, we must also attend to the stressors and worries of our youth, and the impact the pandemic has, and will continue to have, on their health and well-being.”


Loss of community and lack of clarity impact teachers, learners and families in BC’s education system

Early provincial action to combat the spread of COVID-19 closed schools, moved in-class learning to remote delivery, and then brought students back to a modified classroom. Education researchers Dr. Margaret MacDonald and Dr. Cher Hill studied the educational impact of this rapid response through the eyes of those most affected.

As Dr. MacDonald and Dr. Hill note, “little is known about the social, emotional, and pedagogical impact of extensive school closures for families and teachers, or about the consequences of a gradual return to school with many new safety protocols...”

Audio interviews with parents and teachers captured how interviewees experienced change, transition, and vulnerability, and how they addressed work/life balance. Responses ranged from problems with support for vulnerable students and frustration with communication failures, to the loss of community experienced with remote teaching. Despite this, the research showed how quickly parents and teachers adjusted to support students.

Based on the responses, Dr. MacDonald and Dr. Hill make 11 recommendations. These include timely and consistent communication to manage change and support flexibility, with extra assistance for vulnerable students; increased support and adapted schedules for students entering grades K, 6 and 9; and clear expectations around attendance and grading. Going forward, the authors also suggest that schools should explore alternatives such as outdoor education to minimize risk of airborne transmission.

MacDonald, M., Hill, C. The educational impact of the Covid-19 rapid response on teachers, students, and families: Insights from British Columbia, Canada. Prospects (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11125-020-09527-5