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The forgotten demographic: young Canadian students

Assessing the possible benefits and serious cost of COVID-19 school closures on Canadian children
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Graph: The Fraser Institute

by Paige MacPherson, Fraser Institute, associate director, education policy and Kenneth P. Green, senior fellow, Fraser Institute

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COVID school closures across Canada lasted 50 to 135 days minimum depending on province; imposing life-long costs on children

The prolonged COVID-19 school closures across Canada from 2020 to 2022 imposed life-long costs on children, despite evidence available to policymakers early on that closures wouldn’t slow the transmission of COVID-19 and that the harms could outweigh any possible benefits, finds a new study published by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank.

“There was information available to policymakers early on showing school closures would do more harm than good, but schools were closed up until 2022 anyway, and Canadian children will be paying for it the rest of their lives,” said Paige MacPherson, associate director of education policy at the Fraser Institute and co-author of The Forgotten Demographic: Assessing the Possible Benefits and Serious Cost of COVID-19 School Closures on Canadian Children.

“We won’t know the totality of the damage done by the school closures for some time, but what is clear is that governments didn’t use the best information available to them when deciding to close schools, and students have already suffered and will continue to pay the price.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, entire populations halted socializing, schooling and commerce.

Quickly, however, data emerged regarding virus transmission and the realistic risks of COVID-19 by age, showing school closures were unnecessary.

Further evidence showed they would have significant, negative effects on children’s academic performance and mental health:

• Prolonged closure periods: K-12 schools in Canada were closed for a minimum of 10 to 27 weeks (or 135 school days) depending on the province, including into 2022.

• Spike in mental health problems: Research shows that 64 per cent of Canadians aged 15-24 had self-perceived poor mental health during the pandemic – higher than any other demographic.

• Learning loss: Early test score data shows a decline in student achievement following school closures.

• Increased inequality: School closures result in a loss of a students’ lifetime effective years of basic schooling, which in turn likely reduces their lifetime earnings—possibly exacerbating the inequality faced by girls, ethnic minorities and disabled children.

• Lower risk group: Evidence shows that children faced lower health risks from COVID-19 than did any older age group.

“We won’t know the totality of the damage done by the school closures for some time, but what is clear is that governments didn’t use the best information available to them when deciding to close schools, and students have already suffered and will continue to pay the price,” MacPherson said.

The Fraser Institute is an independent Canadian public policy research and educational organization with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal and ties to a global network of think-tanks in 87 countries. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for Canadians, their families and future generations by studying, measuring and broadly communicating the effects of government policies, entrepreneurship and choice on their well-being. To protect the Institute’s independence, it does not accept grants from governments or contracts for research. Visit www.fraserinstitute.org