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A crossing guard helps two students across the street
From Pivot Magazine

The pandemic’s impact on students may have long-lasting effects

David-Alexandre Brassard, CPA Canada’s chief economist, on the many lessons from the past two years that will help us to move past COVID-19’s collateral damage

A crossing guard helps two students across the streetThirty per cent of the school calendar shifted online between March 2020 and March 2022 (Getty Images)

There is every indication that the Canadian economy has largely recovered from the pandemic: economic activity is comparable to pre-pandemic levels and the job market is doing well. As the country emerges from crisis mode, attention will have to turn to other pressing issues if a resilient economy is to be achieved.

The past two years have seen a dramatic transformation in the education sector, with a massive shift to online learning (30 per cent of the school calendar between March 2020 and March 2022), extended school closures in some provinces and disruption of extracurricular activities.

The impact? Declines in achievement for many students and student disengagement. While the magnitude of the impacts may vary, we can expect to see similar findings in Canada as in the United States, where declines in reading and math in “pandemic” cohorts can be seen in grades three through eight. Those most impacted, compared with pre-pandemic cohorts, are marginalized and economically disadvantaged students, just as the lack of face-to-face education has been most detrimental to students with specific learning difficulties.

Working-age students must also carefully weigh the benefits associated with abandoning education for a current job market in which openings are high and wages are climbing due to a scarcity of labour. Choosing work could leave those individuals vulnerable down the road.

Prioritizing work over education is often not beneficial in the long term because of the many advantages associated with obtaining a diploma: increased employment rates, higher incomes (and the resulting increase in taxes paid), better health and greater civic engagement.

The return to normal must include renewed efforts to narrow achievement disparities among students and to support their educational perseverance and success. We also need to pay particular attention to the mental health of young people, which has suffered due to the pandemic.

In terms of health care, the pandemic has strained the system and exacerbated existing problems, such as limited hospital capacity, which in some cases has compounded the need for public health restrictions. Added to that, as we all know, is an aging population and the pressure it will put on health infrastructure. To prevent our hospitals from overflowing year after year, we would do well to improve access to decentralized front-line services by improving access to home services, for example. Let’s also hope that digital solutions put forward during the pandemic, such as telemedicine, will be among the technologies adopted.

A quick scan of our economy shows that many business sectors have yet to return to their pre-pandemic revenues. Two areas that have been especially hard hit are arts and entertainment, and accommodation and food services, which were shut down several times because they were considered less safe. As the risks decrease, it will be up to us as consumers to support them and prioritize local consumption of goods. Increasing Canadian economic nationalism would benefit all businesses in this country, particularly SMEs.

It will take courage, especially political courage, to meet all these challenges, while also investing in innovation, productivity and the energy transition. It requires vision and detailed planning in addition to adequate budgets. In sum, there is no shortage of priority issues that need tackling both at home and around the globe.


See what David-Alexandre Brassard, CPA Canada’s chief economist, has to say about green bonds, the risks of a too-hot housing market and the country’s economic outlook for the year.