E. L. Crossley Secondary School. MARK K PHOTO

Support for conventional school return varies among parents but strong support for key funding areas remains

Through a statement on July 16, 2020, the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA) and Nanos Research released public polling data from June 23 to 28 regarding issues related to COVID-19 and public education, including, opening schools in September to in-person schooling, online distance learning, and funding.

Level of Comfort Returning to School

More than half (53%) of Ontarians with children in the public school system are somewhat comfortable or comfortable with students, staff, and education workers returning to the school environment in September on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health.

More than four in ten Ontarians with children in the system say they are somewhat uncomfortable (25%) or uncomfortable (18%) with students, teachers and education workers returning to school in September.

More than four in ten Ontarians with children in the system say they are likely (12%) or somewhat likely (32%) to keep their child or children home from school this coming September.

Mixed Model of Education Delivery and Real-Time Teacher-Student Interaction

A strong majority of Ontarians with children in the public school system support (26%) or somewhat support (48%) a mixed model of education delivery, being provided this fall, including in-person and online delivery.

More than nine in 10 Ontarians say it is important (64%) or somewhat important (27%) for students in Grades 4 to 8 to have real-time/live interaction with their teacher and other students when undertaking online learning. More than eight in 10 Ontarians say they feel the same about online learning for Kindergarten to Grade 3 and secondary students.

When asked what would have made the online learning experience better, Ontarians who report having experience with online learning during the past school year more often mentioned direct interaction with teachers/one-on-one time (16%), followed by having more live classes/meetings/interactions with peers (13%), better internet connection/better technology/platform (11%), nothing (10%), more resources for parents and students/instructions on what to do (9%), and more structured/organized (7%).

Considerations When Returning to Schools

More than nine in 10 Ontarians say it is important or somewhat important to consider the advice of healthcare professionals, staff health and worker safety, and the mental health and educational needs of children when thinking of a return to in-person instruction in schools.

More than eight in 10 Ontarians say it is important (53%) or somewhat important (31%) to consider the need for childcare to re-open the economy.

Funding

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the provincial government’s related significant increase in spending, and following up on OPSBA/Nanos polling from November 2019, the results indicate Ontarians are still nearly twice as likely to agree that spending on public education (51%) is more important than eliminating the deficit (27%). A majority of Ontarians support or somewhat support additional school board funding priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic, including:

  • Cleaning supplies and caretaking
  • Technology for students and teachers
  • Support for students with special education needs
  • Support for marginalized students
  • More online learning professional development for teachers
  • Increased online course options for secondary students
  • Allowing school boards to be creative in their learning environments
  • Student transportation to school

“The results of this polling tells us that the public recognizes the critical societal importance of public education, especially during a pandemic,” said Cathy Abraham, President of OPSBA.

“With the support of the public behind us on this, we know our school boards and schools will need appropriate levels of funding for a number of arising issues, including cleaning supplies, support for technology and students with special education needs, and student transportation.”

Other Highlights

More than eight in 10 Ontarians are concerned (54%) or somewhat concerned (32%) about the pandemic’s effects on students’ mental health, and more than three in four Ontarians are concerned (40%) or somewhat concerned (36%) about the pandemic’s effects on teachers’ and education workers’ mental health.

Nearly 70% of Ontarians who report having experience with online learning in the current school year say the experience was positive (21%) or somewhat positive (48%).

The polling shows an urban-rural divide:

Nearly eight in ten urban respondents who had experience with real-time online learning with other students said it was useful or somewhat useful, while less than six in 10 rural respondents said the same.

While nearly 58% of Southwestern Ontario and 57% of Northern Ontario respondents are comfortable or somewhat comfortable with students, staff and education workers returning to school, only 45% of Toronto respondents said the same.

About the Research

Nanos conducted a representative online survey of 2,019 Ontarians, from June 23 to 28, 2020, drawn from a non-probability panel. The results were statistically checked and weighted by age and gender using the latest Census information and the sample is geographically stratified to be representative of Canada. The sample is geographically stratified to be representative of Canada.

Complete poll results can be found at www.nanos.co