In 2020, schools in Canada faced with the unforeseen hurdle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they closed in-person learning. No matter where they lived, the students had their lives turned upside down. Later in the year, online learning was combined with new forms of in-person learning.
As the number of cases began to rise again in Ontario in September 2021, I started ninth grade and participated in a social experiment known as “quadmestre”. Every day, I was forced to sit for two and a half hours in class for one subject and then repeat the process for a second subject. Both of these courses lasted only eight weeks, but they used a curriculum designed to be taught over five months.
During my second week of high school, I caught a cold and, of course, I was worried I had COVID. I stayed home as instructed and had to take a COVID test before returning to school. Luckily the test was negative, but the work I missed by being away for a day was equivalent to three days of regular school. So, in the second week of high school, I had already fallen behind. It continued to descend from there. Math, a subject I love, was fun. But, at the speed at which it was taught, I had no time to assimilate the algebraic formulas, to practice them and to apply them; once the formulas were taught, the next test was always a day away. Day in and day out, I had feelings of panic, worry about failure, and general stress from the high intensity class, even though the fear wasn’t something I had ever associated with. school before. Classes have since returned to normal, but I still have questions about what happened, and I’m sure other students share many. What have the last two years of study done to us? And will we feel the effects for years?
Some school boards first experimented with the Octomester model: students focused on one subject a day for twenty-two days, then moved on to another subject, for a total of eight subjects for the school year.
To remedy some of the shortcomings of the condensed octomaster style, many school boards in Ontario, as well as at least one high school in Winnipeg, have adopted the quadmaster, as have some schools in Saskatchewan, although they usually call it a quarter system. Some high schools in Saskatchewan also used a straight system of five separate blocks per year. Cohorts in all of these models were designed to keep students in the same peer groups, with limited socialization to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For our two-month term, I was in a cohort of fifteen students for all my classes, although the numbers varied. I even spent the lunch break with the same students.
Lizzie Cameron, who just graduated from grade 12 at Paris District High School in Paris, Ont., says her school has experimented with quadmestres. In the fall of 2020, she had to squeeze through “a week’s worth of material in one day. So you tend to have major projects and much more regular testing. In math class, she says, “we did two units at a time, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. So we had a quiz or a test or some form of assessment every other day, along with the usual worksheets. If you didn’t understand something right away, you were in trouble. It felt like a test of endurance, she said, and it took a toll on the students’ mental and physical well-being.
Ryan Imgrund, a biostatistician and independent educational consultant who has worked with the Ontario government, says “the overall goal of this system was to ensure that classes could transition easily from in-person to online class.” He says the quadrimester was a way to find a compromise between the octomester and semester system, which is why so many school boards adopted it.
Even though the quadrimester is less intensive than the octomester, many students struggled with the pace of the tests. Aidan Connolly, an incoming Grade 12 student at St. John’s College in Brantford, Ontario, was taking two science subjects at once. Although he said his teachers were good, it was still overwhelming. He ended up taking two tests a week for the whole term.
And then there is the issue of focus. Maintaining a student’s attention at the best of times is a difficult task for teachers. A popular notion suggests that a student’s attention wanes fifteen minutes after the start of a lecture; if so, in a 150-minute four-month course, a student will lose mental focus at least ten times.
Frustration over the inadequacy of quadmestres and online learning has often resulted in burnout and student anger. Lucas Balog was head of the 12th grade student council at Paris district high school when he returned to term and in-person learning in February 2021 and says he observed more division, fighting and aggression than during from his previous high school years. Lockdowns and online learning have tipped the scales towards many more school-hating students, he says. “They must like to learn. They should enjoy seeing their friends.
Some administrators say the four-master system was the best option. Reg Lavergne, superintendent of the Ottawa-Carleton Secondary School Board, says the four-month system had some advantages. He says this was to keep students safe in classrooms. “It was a necessary step that everyone had to take. Ultimately, I have 100% faith and belief in teachers and their ability to care for children and their ability to say, ‘Okay, given this situation, how can I change that? ?” How can I modify this? How can I adjust it to help them? Lavergne says, “I think we’ve also started to understand that learning can be very different and that’s okay. »
The future ramifications of the quadmestre system are clear to educational adviser Monika Ferenczy. Because it compresses lessons into shorter periods, terms leave teachers with “no time to revise or correct if students are struggling with a particular concept”. She suggests that students will not remember what has been covered when they take the next level course in the same subject. These learning gaps will need to be filled with other supports, such as tutoring.
Ferenczy notes that there is already a body of research demonstrating the impact of the pandemic on anxiety and depression. This means that schools will need additional resources to support students in the years to come. A meta-analysis published by JAMA Pediatrics says young people’s mental health struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic have likely doubled.
As vaccination rates increased among high school students, many school boards returned to a normal schedule and dropped out of the cohort. In the spring of 2022, school boards across Canada had made the choice to return to invite students back to in-person learning and the proven semester model.
Students like me are grateful that the social experiment of the quadmestre ended, which resulted in the return of my well-being. Certainly, the education systems we know today have never experienced a pandemic of this magnitude before, and the response was based on practicalities. Schools were to open. Students had to resume in-person learning. Teachers and students needed to be safe.
But, to me, it seems like the sanity and learning ability of this generation was an afterthought. Parents needed schools to be open so they could go to work. Governments have come under pressure to get things back to normal. But at what cost ? Are we going to look back on this time of the pandemic and realize that so much has been lost?
I guess only time will tell. As we continue to linger amid the ever-present threat of COVID-19, we can be labeled the “COVID generation” and be forgiven for our underlying anxiety, apprehension about the future, and, perhaps, our lack of fundamentals of education, which we lost with our childhood. On the other hand, we may have a future that returns to normal. I hope for the latter.