April 21, 2020
While trying to ensure that their children are safe, showered and schooled during the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents in Canada, as in other countries, are currently experiencing stress and sleepless nights. According to a survey conducted April 9–12, 2020,1 42% of surveyed adults living with children or youth said that they often/very often had difficulty sleeping since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am one of those parents.
My own family includes three boys (pre-teen and teen), and soon I will be faced with a big credit card bill and some added stress, since the boys left their running shoes in their school lockers on March 12. Having worn boots to school that day, they now having nothing appropriate to wear on a warm Ottawa spring day.
My family has, so far, been extremely lucky in this pandemic. I continue to have a paid job and, like approximately 6.8 million Canadians surveyed by Statistics Canada in the last week of March (39%),2 I’ve been working from home, where it’s easier to avoid germs.
My parents and in-laws are living in isolation on the other side of the country, well cared-for within each of their relationships, like 81% of those in committed couples who say they and their spouse are supporting each other well during the crisis.3 My husband and I also count ourselves within the 79% of couples with kids at home who are supporting each other well during these unusual times.
For my family, the biggest ongoing stressor during the COVID-19 pandemic has, in fact, been related to school – or, more precisely, homeschooling. There are three generations of teachers on my maternal side, but I am not one of them. My boys are attending homeschool on their own for the duration of this pandemic. Elementary and secondary school teachers represent only about 2% of Canada’s labour force,4 which means that the rest of us are not likely qualified for the job.
According to Statistics Canada, 32% of Canadians are very or extremely anxious about family stress resulting from confinement due to the coronavirus.5 I can’t help but wonder what proportion of this anxiety is directly or indirectly related to the effort involved in trying to be a teacher, as well as a parent, while schools are closed.
Some families do not have the resources to enable stress-free homeschooling
Fortunately – or unfortunately, from the perspective of my 14-year-old son – a “pandemic” home education can now be delivered online in most parts of Canada. However, getting this education requires a) a stable, high-speed Internet connection with adequate bandwidth; b) access to a device or, preferably, multiple devices; c) a child who can focus, concentrate and be self-directed; or d) all of the above. The answer here is, of course, d). The question that remains is, therefore, “Is an online education achievable for children in all families across this country?”
A review of available data from official sources provides insight into the family characteristics that may result in greater challenges when it comes to obtaining an online elementary or post-secondary school education during the COVID-19 pandemic and, accordingly, where increased vulnerability might result in a long-term educational gap:
- Low-income households, rural households and Indigenous households are less likely to have the Internet access/speed required to complete online school activities at home. In 2017, only 24% of households in Indigenous communities and 37% of rural households had access to Internet at the minimum speed required to take full advantage of online opportunities, whereas 97% of urban homes had access at that speed or higher.6 In 2018, approximately 4% of households in the lowest income quartile did not have any Internet at home.7
- Low-income families are less likely to have a device other than a mobile device, which could make doing online school work challenging. Nearly one-quarter (24%) of households in the lowest income quartile reported using only mobile devices for accessing the Internet in 2018, three times higher than the share among households in the highest income quartile (8%).8
- Many families have more than one child who is required to complete school work at home, and yet the majority of households may not have enough devices to accomplish this easily. Close to 6 in 10 households (58%) that had Internet access as of 2018 had less than one device per household member.9 This figure was highest (63%) among households in the lowest income quartile.
- Like shoes, assistive devices may not have been sent home before schools were closed, which could impact the ability of children and youth with disabilities to undertake certain educational activities at home. Half of youth with a disability require at least one aid, assistive device or educational accommodation to follow their courses, according to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability.10
- Some children do not live in families were the environment is conducive to online learning:
- Almost 19,000 children were victimized by a family member in Canada in 2018 and in 59% of cases, the child was victimized by one of his or her own parents, who most often lived in the same residence.11
- Household food insecurity, which contributes to both poor mental and physical health, is when households cannot afford the quality or quantity of food needed for good health. Not surprisingly, data from 2017–2018 show high rates of food insecurity among households reliant on social assistance (60%) and Employment Insurance or Workers’ Compensation (32%).12
The statistics above only just begin to cover the myriad of intersecting barriers that can impede home learning, not to mention overall well-being, for families in Canada.
For many children and parents, school provides benefits over and above an education – benefits like social and emotional support, nutrition, increased physical exercise and a safe space to be themselves.
I, for one, have seen how many advantages my boys are missing out on since the start of the COVID-19 crisis just by virtue of the fact that they are no longer in school. And, as much as I love having them here at home with me, I cannot wait for them to go back.
Jennifer Kaddatz, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada
- The survey, conducted by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger on March 10–13, March 27–29, April 3–5 and April 9–12, 2020, included approximately 1,500 individuals aged 18 and older, interviewed using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology in a web-based survey. The March 27–29, April 3–5 and April 9–12 samples also included booster samples of approximately 500 immigrants. Using data from the 2016 Census, results were weighted according to gender, age, mother tongue, region, education level and presence of children in the household in order to ensure a representative sample of the population. No margin of error can be associated with a non-probability sample (web panel in this case). However, for comparative purposes, a probability sample of 1,512 respondents would have a margin of error of ±2.52%, 19 times out of 20.
- Survey data from Statistics Canada show that during the week of March 22–28, 6.8 million Canadians worked from home (39%), including 4.7 million who don’t usually do so. Link: https://bit.ly/2yqH9t1.
- April 9–12 survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger (see note 1).
- Statistics Canada, Occupation – National Occupational Classification (NOC) 2016 (693A), Highest Certificate, Diploma or Degree (15), Labour Force Status (3), Age (13A) and Sex (3) for the Labour Force Aged 15 Years and Over in Private Households of Canada, Provinces and Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations, 2016 Census – 25% Sample Data, 2016 Census data tables, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 98-400-X2016295. (November 29, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/2wSFdsD.
- Statistics Canada, “How Are Canadians Coping with the COVID-19 Situation?,” Infographics, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 11-627-M (April 8, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2wVzkuL.
- Minister of Rural Economic Development, High-Speed Access for All: Canada’s Connectivity Strategy, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. Link: https://bit.ly/2XQNecT.
- Statistics Canada, Data to Insights for a Better Canada COVID-19 Pandemic: School Closures and the Online Preparedness of Children, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 45-28-0001 (April 15, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2zh73Qh.
- Statistics Canada, “Educational Experiences of Youth with Disabilities,” Infographics, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 11-627-M (September 10, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/2RSInUN.
- Statistics Canada, Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile, 2018, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 85-002-X (December 12, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/2VlogAG.
- Valerie Tarasuk and Andy Mitchell, Household Food Insecurity in Canada 2017–2018, Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF) (March 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3cFHDKB.