June 8, 2021Print | PDF
Kelly Gallagher-Mackay, an assistant professor in Wilfrid Laurier University’s Law and Society Program, was selected by the provincial government’s Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table to lead the development of a scientific brief on the educational impacts of COVID-19. Gallagher-MacKay and her colleagues synthesized international evidence showing school disruptions have a significant and highly inequitable impact on students, parents and society.
Gallagher-Mackay’s report, written in collaboration with a team of Ontario researchers, was released to the public on June 7. It was used to inform the province’s COVID-19 briefing on April 1. The Science Advisory Table, a group of researchers and health-system leaders, provides briefings to cabinet members and the public on the latest evidence needed to create policy in response to COVID-19.
“Our report highlights why it is so important that school closures be a last resort,” says Gallagher-Mackay. “Globally, there is a growing body of evidence that COVID-19 school closures cause students to lose ground academically.”
Research suggests that, on average, youth are two or three months behind where they would be at this time due to the impacts of COVID-19.
“The loss of structure and supports is bad for students’ physical and mental health, especially those with disabilities,” says Gallagher-Mackay. “We also highlighted the long-term economic effects associated with large disruptions to schooling.”
Lost learning and skills for this cohort of students could lead to a reduction in national GDP of $1.6 trillion dollars – the equivalent of one year’s GDP today – and reduced lifetime earnings.
A lawyer with a PhD in Educational Theory and Policy Studies, Gallagher-Mackay’s research examines legal and policy decisions that create or disrupt systemic inequality in education. Even before working with the Science Advisory Table, Gallagher-Mackay had been partnering with school boards across the Greater Toronto Area to aggregate and publish data focusing on key educational impacts of COVID-19 and remote schooling.
“We are trying to get a picture of some of the big changes that the pandemic has had on attendance, graduation, who got devices and who didn’t, and who’s applying to post-secondary and who isn’t,” says Gallagher-Mackay. “We are hoping to provoke public conversations and monitor where we may need to take action to avoid long-term harm to students. Education is one of the top determinants of long-term health and whether people are going to engage in active citizenship.
“As we see kids falling a third of a year behind, we have a lot to worry about in terms of their long-term contributions to our country. And how are they doing? How are they feeling? Will they have the confidence they need to get themselves through the system? Let’s make sure that these dips in achievement are temporary and that for any gaps that emerge we have an active plan to close them.”