CANADA These students say virtual learning makes the transition to...

These students say virtual learning makes the transition to high school or university much more difficult.

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For the CBC News Series “Learning Curve,” we spoke to students across the country about how they feel about moving to the next stage of their education after years of studying amid the pandemic. (Illustration: Micheline Parent/CBC; Photo: GP Studio/Shutterstock)

Some young learners struggle to develop early reading skills while others stumble over math concepts. The recurring reversals of the pandemic have robbed students of classroom learning, impacted their mental health, and alienated them from their peers. The CBC News series “Learning Curve” explores the impact of COVID-19 on Canadian students and what they need to recover from school interrupted by the pandemic.


Many students say that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have lacked any alignment with the school, from disrupting exams to learning new habits.

For some, the transition years — moving from 8th grade to high school or 12th grade to college — already evoke fear of the unknown. So CBC News spoke to some of these students about how the changes in education brought about by the pandemic have impacted these momentous years.

Ava Pietrantonio, 13 (Woodbridge, Ontario)

Eighth grader Ava Pietrantonio is nervous.

“I heard that many 7th grade students learned things that I didn’t know,” she said. “I’m a little worried that… if I learn this in 9th grade, I’ll be stuck.”

Ava Pietrantonio is an eighth grade student at Pine Grove Public School. (Craig Chivers)

Pietrantonio normally attended at the same time as her classmates at Pine Grove Public School in Woodbridge, Ontario, but when the school moved to online learning in 2020 and 2021, every student was placed in a virtual elementary school.

This meant that there were new teachers in her classes and other unfamiliar faces from all over the student council.

“They just gave you Google Docs, Slides and Google Sheets to work with. So you don’t really get a tutorial or questions to answer,” Pietrantonio said.

“I felt like I was behind.”

Just this year, she said, teachers began preparing students for tasks like exam preparation, which gave her a little relief ahead of starting high school this fall.

  • Do you have a question about how children are recovering from learning disrupted by the pandemic? Do you have experiences you would like to share or ideas that can help kids get back to school? Send mail to ask@cbc.ca.

Makayla McIntosh, 14 (Brampton, Ontario)

Makayla McIntosh describes her learning experience during the pandemic as a rollercoaster ride.

“At first it was fun, but then it got worse,” said the eighth grader.

Makayla McIntosh found that virtual learning had many ups and downs. (Presented by Taja McIntosh)

She emphasizes that math is a particularly difficult subject to learn online, saying that it was difficult for her to communicate one-on-one with her teacher if she struggled.

“It’s not like you can raise your hand and they can come to you,” she said.

Heading into high school in the fall, Makayla says she feels ready for the challenge but is worried about the class material.

“I would say that I worry about not being able to do the job to my standards because my standards for me are much higher than, for example, other people have for me,” she said. “I’m afraid to let myself and my parents down.”

But this year, she had a chance to bond with some of her peers. Being in a tight-knit class of only 11 students, she often turned to her classmates for help during lunch or other breaks.

“We will help each other,” she said. “It was nice to spend time alone with my friends, who understood everything, because they knew where I came from.”

Ishal Ali, 14 years old (Ottawa)

When 9th grade student Ishaal Ali switched to distance learning, she noticed that she was struggling to keep up with new technologies.

Virtually with very little support, she felt her grades eventually suffered.

“Being online for so long made it hard to focus,” she said. “It shortened my attention span quite a bit.”

She found herself spending most of the day online, first at school and then a few more hours to do her homework and study.

According to a 9th grade student, the transition to online learning made it difficult for Ishaal Ali to work. (Presented by Ishaal Ali)

In addition to moving to high school during the pandemic, Ali has moved to another school board to attend a literary arts program. She said the jump was a frightening experience.

However, she says her 9th grade literature teacher helped ease the transition. Each day, the class is asked to write down whatever is on their mind in hopes of improving concentration and reducing distractions.

  • We have asked provincial and territorial governments in Canada for plans to rebuild the education system. Here’s what they told us.

Logan Curl, 17 (Queen)

Logan Curl says he hasn’t had a “normal” year since 9th grade.

“Since then, I’ve just been playing catch up,” said the 12th grader. “12th grade just threw me in another lap trying to get back on track.”

Initially, 12th grade student Logan Curl said he enjoyed not writing his exams, but now he’s worried he’ll have trouble with university exams. (Presented by Logan Curl)

Curl said he and his colleagues are worried that university exams will be a problem for him. During these two years of the pandemic, many of his school exams were optional or cancelled.

“It seemed like a good thing at the time… but it probably didn’t prepare me the way it would if I had a normal year.”

Despite the learning gaps, Curl said he was ready to continue his studies in graduate school.

We learned to do things a little faster and to do things on our own instead of being shown by teachers,” he said, noting that independence is a newfound skill.

Prabpal Bhullar, 18 (Vancouver)

Prabpal Bhullar, a 12th grade student at WJ Mouat High School, says teaching responsibility has been a positive outcome of his school experience during the pandemic.

“When we went virtual, the whole idea of ​​independence was… emphasized,” he said.

Prabpal Bhullar says the newfound sense of independence has been one of the benefits of virtual learning. (Presented by Prabpal Bhullar)

He said the distance learning experience encouraged him to take charge of his own schedule.

“I feel like it was sort of a precursor,” Bhullar said. “In a way, it made me feel ready for the next step.”

From setting the right alarms to setting aside time to study, he believes the pandemic has heightened his sense of responsibility as he transitions to higher education.

With prom approaching, Bhullar said he is thrilled that despite the hardships they have faced, 12th grade students will get the chance to celebrate their resilience in person.

Victoria Dmitruchik, 19 years old (Hamilton, Ontario)

For 19-year-old Victoria Dmitruchik, the transition from high school to McMaster University was an unpleasant one.

“You had a one and a half year break in your studies, and then you suddenly ended up at the university,” she said.

Due to the pandemic, her first semester was completely online.

Victoria Dmitruchik said the transition from high school to university was harder than expected for her, likely because she interrupted her studies during the pandemic. (Courtesy of Victoria Dmitruchik)

By the time her group had to take their first face-to-face exam in 2022, almost three years had passed since Dmitruchik’s last face-to-face assessment.

“I talked to some of my friends who said, ‘Yeah, we’ll just learn it next semester’ because we have a lot of free time, but most people didn’t end up doing that,” she said.

If she had to give advice to a 12th grade student to ease his transition, she would encourage him to stay focused and not think too much about learning gaps.

“Get the best out of it and really stick with it,” Dmytrchik said. “After all, if you need to know this information for what you plan to do, you don’t want to struggle when you really have to go and show off your skills.”


COVID-19 has affected the last three school years. How are your students coping with learning during the pandemic? What worries you the most? Share your experiences and concerns with us on ask@cbc.ca (Be sure to include your name and location. These may be shown on the CBC News Network.)

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