Learning supports are on their way to some of Alberta’s youngest students and their teachers. On Oct. 27, the provincial government announced it would begin doling out a portion of the $45 million it promised last May to mitigate student learning gaps resulting from the pandemic. The first phase of the recovery plan will include an immediate $490 subsidy per qualifying student in grades 2 and 3, and a similar subsidy for Grade 1 students in the new year.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced the funding would be directed toward students who are experiencing learning gaps and deficiencies in numeracy or literacy.
“We know that being able to respond to the needs of students as the public health changes is essential to their success,” said LaGrange. “Alberta students deserve the best education possible, and we have supported students during every step of this pandemic.”
Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling said he’s grateful to see some funding from the government to help young learners who may be falling behind, but he still has some questions as to how the money will be used.
“I don’t want to see more put on the plates of teachers who already have a lot to do right now,” Schilling said. “We need to know what this programming will look like. How will it affect the students? Who will be doing it?”
The ministry will use the results from tests administered to Grade 2 and 3 earlier in the current school year to determine which students are eligible for the funding. Those students experiencing deficiencies in both numeracy and literacy will receive double the subsidy — $980.
Lori Jess, president of the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA), and Wilco Tymensen, president of the College of Alberta School Superintendents (CASS), joined Minister LaGrange for the announcement.
“We are pleased that boards will have the flexibility to use this funding within their local context,” said Jess, “as each board has faced challenges unique to their own communities.”
Tymensen echoed Jess’s praise for the funding. “These supports,” he said, “will help our staff, our administrators, our students, and our school communities and families.”
Schilling noted that while the minister indicated school boards would be able to use the funding to hire staff, she fell short of specifying the new hires would need to be certificated teachers.
“Reduced class size was part of our nine recommendations for a safe return to school,” Schilling said. “Every student needs that opportunity to have more one-on-one time with their teacher. We need to increase qualified teaching staffing levels so those class sizes can finally start to come down.”
While acknowledging the importance of literacy and numeracy in young students, Schilling also expressed concern that the ministry’s announcement did not address the learning needs for students in our education system outside Grades 1 to 3.
“We also have students that are in grades 4 to 12 who are also experiencing stresses and pressures and have gone through the same past 20 months as everybody else,” he said. “We need to make sure we’re focusing on those students as well.”
LaGrange said the decision to target the early grades was a result of consultation with CASS and other education stakeholders who indicated that it was these early learners who were experiencing the most impact and were struggling to catch up.
The next phase of the subsidy rollout will target Grade 1 students and will be based on their numeracy and literacy testing, which is expected to take place in January 2022. ❚