What disruptions are affecting the labour market? Which skills and competencies are required for new and evolving jobs? How can people and institutions adapt to the future of work and learning? Through this monthly brief, keep on top of developments in the workforce and how education and training are changing today to build the skills and competencies needed for the future. Priority will go to stories focused on Western Canada. If you know of something relevant and want to send for inclusion in the next brief, email .

Pandemic effects on classrooms and campuses

This brief is the second in a two-part series of longer looks at the impacts of the pandemic on work and learning. This brief looks at the impacts on education, from elementary to post-secondary, and what these impacts mean for the future. Read the first in the series to understand how the pandemic has impacted the workplace. 

From education loss to recovery

Recent estimates from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) project that two thirds of the academic year have been lost on average worldwide. Read more on what UNESCO foresees here. 

Public health experts say that community sacrifices are needed to allow students to safely return to in person instruction. Read more on the recommendations here. 

In Canada, learning at home has not gone well for most K-12 students. Vulnerable students who already experienced barriers to education faced further barriers as they lost access to in person aids and supports. Read more on the challenges facing Canadian children here.

University of Alberta researcher George Georgiou found that in Alberta school districts, children in Grades 1-3 were already six to eight months behind in reading skills by September 2020. CWF’s Janet Lane and Gary Mar made the case for targeted interventions as soon as possible to help young students get back on track. Read the op-ed. 

Henry County Schools in Atlanta took an interesting approach and introduced early evening night classes for elementary students over the summer so parents could supervise when they were done work. The classes rolled the academic day into three hours between 4 7 p.m. and is now a permanent delivery option. Read more on the program here.

Post-Secondary admissions 

Some students are concerned that as provincial exams are cancelled, the lack of exams could be a barrier to post-secondary education. Manitoba cancelled exams for the third semester in a row with Minister of Education Cliff Cullen saying he did not think it would impact their chances. Alberta made Grade 12 diploma exams optional; only six per cent of students opted to complete them. Read more on Manitoba’s cancellation here and Alberta’s here. 

Internationally, some countries have gone ahead with exams while others are delayed or cancelled. The U.K. National Recognition Information Centre (NARIC) reports that in 2020, teacher-predicted grades resulted in more students qualifying for post-secondary than previous exam-based years. Read more on the international approach and concerns for assessment exams here.

Other students are concerned they don’t know how the fall 2021 post-secondary semester will be delivered. With vaccine rollouts slowed and the rise of new coronavirus variants, high school students are unsure if they want to commit to post-secondary this year or defer to next year. For more on the issue of fall enrolment, read this article for student perspectives.

Role in recovery 

Manitoba’s Skills, Talent and Knowledge Strategy for post-secondary education, has been released and its expected to be key to recovery from the pandemic. The four strategic goals are: anticipating skills needed for the future; aligning education and training to labour market needs and helping students succeed; fostering entrepreneurial and innovative skills; and growing, attracting and retaining talent. Read the strategy report here. 

One insolvency expert predicts that economic recovery will take about five years for youth but will take an additional five years to see the effects. He points to the high lay-off numbers as well as student and consumer debt loads students faced when the pandemic hit. Read more on his predictions here. 

A joint initiative under the Canada-BC Workforce Development Agreement supports the delivery of 24 micro-credentialed programs at 15 B.C. post-secondary institutions (PSIs). North Island College (NIC) on Vancouver Island now offers free micro-credential and full-length programs in emerging sectors. The College of New Caledonia also offers micro-credentials in Core Skills for a Digital World. Read the press release, more on the NIC program here and College of New Caledonia here. 

Expect more off campus delivery 

University of Regina Interim Provost David Gregory provided some perspective on distance delivery. Prior to the pandemic, about 95 per cent of instruction was on campus and five per cent was online; the pandemic flipped those numbers. Gregory does not see on-campus delivery going back what it used to be. For students, the flexibility of online delivery around work schedules and other commitments is beneficial. The biggest drawback is isolation, as students cannot meet others and engage in the same way. Read the full interview here.

University Finances 

Laurentian University recently took the spotlight as it became the first Ontario institution to declare insolvency. The institution has dealt with financial issues and debt concerns over the past few years, which the pandemic exacerbated. The declaration has concerned researchers as they do not know if they will have funds to complete projects and it has already been made clear that staff, including the possibility of tenured faculty, will face layoffs. Time will tell whether Laurentian is “the canary in the coal mine,” as one Conservative MP from Ontario said, or is a single case of insolvency. Read more on Laurentian and COVID-19 here, the impacts to employees here, and the longer-term issues here. This Brief will continue to monitor what broad range impacts this case could mean for research funding and post-secondary institutions overall. 

Canada still attractive to international students 

Canada has taken steps to attract and retain international students during the pandemic, especially as international student revenues are integral to PSI finances. Read this article for more on the revenue implications as COVID-19 impacts international enrolments. The latest federal government announcement will allow international students who complete their studies online and out of country to receive post-graduation work permits. In recent surveys, Canada and the UK are leading as Australia maintains stringent border controls. An Educations.Com survey of international students saw Canada take the number one spot for international education for the second year in a row. Within Canada, institutions are required to be federally approved Designated Learning Institutions before they can accept international students on campus. See the full list of DLIs here. 

Health and safety paramount

The Calgary boards of education anticipate they will have to face COVID-19 safety and cleaning measures even in the 2021-2022 academic year. Variants have already impacted schools in the Calgary and Edmonton areas since in person instruction began in January. Read more on Calgary schools and the variants here. Read more on Edmonton schools implementing circuit breaker lockdowns here.

British Columbia now requires all students in middle and high schools to wear masks whenever they are indoors and are not eating or drinking. Students who have plexiglass at their seat may also take off their masks. Read more on the B.C. requirements here. 

While students cannot be vaccinated yet, four school boards in Alberta want teachers placed in Phase 2 of the vaccination plan as essential workers. The province has not yet announced vaccination plans for school personnel. Read more on the push for teacher vaccines here.

Mental health concerns 

Canadian psychologists are seeing increases in the number of children and youth diagnosed with a variety of mental health related issues, such as separation anxiety and sleep disruption; these mental health concerns impact students’ learning and engagement. Read more on Canadian youth mental health here and here. 

UBCOkanagan offers free, no time limit mental health services to children aged 6 to 19 who have mental health concerns because of the pandemic. The clinic operates through referral by parents or guardians. Access the clinic here. 

In a Mental Health Research Canada poll, teachers reported a five to 25 per cent increase in anxiety. Further, 26 per cent of parents said that supporting their children in athome schoolwork negatively impacted their mental health. There are no stats yet on the mental health of teachers who are also parents of school aged children. Read more on these experiences here.

The federal government has launched Wellness Together Canada to support all Canadians struggling with mental health issues due to the pandemic. Access this resource here.

With the launch of Healthy Campus Saskatchewan, the Province of Saskatchewan has taken a significant step in terms of mental health on campuses. The program creates a community of practice among the 19 provincial campuses to support students. Read the government press release and access the Healthy Campus Saskatchewan site here. 

The Future of Work & Learning Brief is compiled by Stephany Laverty and Janet Lane. If you like what you see, subscribe to our mailing list and share with a friend. If you have any interesting stories for future editions, please send them to .

Photo by Changbok Ko on Unsplash