TORONTO, ON—Today, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) shared new research that shows its members are experiencing negative mental health impacts linked to the Ford government’s failed response to COVID-19. The province’s irresponsible underfunding of public education has led to unnecessary, negative mental health impacts for educators.
“It’s unfortunate that this government’s approach to safety continues to abandon the very frontline workers it claims to centre and protect,” says ETFO President Sam Hammond. “Their inadequate plan to keep schools safe has been damaging for everyone. They’ve willfully ignored education partners and medical experts, and dismissed the efforts of education workers who, as a result, are experiencing burnout and other negative mental health impacts. They must be held accountable.”
More than 5,000 ETFO members participated in a survey from November 23 to December 15, 2020. The results, currently being analyzed by the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) and the Institute for Work & Health, will be shared in two peer-reviewed research studies that are expected this spring. Preliminary results were shared by OHCOW on April 30 and are a stark reminder of the unique impact of the pandemic on educators:
- Seventy-nine percent of women and 71 per cent of men had a burnout score above 75 (on a scale of 0 to 100). The 2019 Canadian worker average burnout score was 52 (54 for the education sector). The level of burnout was worse for those who work remotely. Participants also reported high work demands, fast work pace, little predictability, role conflicts, and fear.
- Members in hybrid learning rated the psychological health and safety environment most negatively.
- Two-thirds of ETFO members reported that less than half of their needs for infection control practices are met. These unmet needs have led to sleep disturbances and are strongly correlated with symptoms of anxiety and depression. Unmet needs include concerns about physical distancing, physical barriers, cohorting, screening, face coverings, and personal protective equipment.
- Only 13 per cent indicated that the ventilation in schools was appropriate and adequate.
- Only six per cent felt the government was doing their best to protect them and others at work.
- Overall, the results paint a picture of an education system that has survived on the backs of the workers who have held one another up. In the survey, educators in schools reported that the support they are receiving from colleagues is “much better than average.” They have sacrificed their own well-being to meet the needs of students and the community, while following directives from a government that has neither earned their trust nor fully provided for their safety.
Throughout the pandemic, ETFO has advocated strongly for publicly funded schools to remain open safely and sustainably because we know in-person learning is the most equitable experience for learners. But this must not be done at the expense of well-being.
To address the need for mental health supports, ETFO urges the government to:
- improve school safety by mandating smaller classes and masking in Kindergarten;
- evaluate and improve ventilation with CO2 monitors, HVAC upgrades and portable air purification units;
- increase funding to ensure infection control requirements in schools are met;
- consult with educators, unions and other education partners to develop appropriate supports; and
- allocate funds and resources to mental health services.
Notes Hammond, “We need enhanced safety measures today, tomorrow and into the future. Now is not the time to be cutting public education funding. It’s clear from this research that more needs to be done by this government to safeguard the health and well-being of educators and other education workers.”
The government lacks understanding about the stress and pressures of learning and working in a pandemic. “Many days have been tough, and there are ongoing challenges for everyone,” says Hammond. “The work elementary educators do makes an incredible difference in the lives of students and families. Saying thanks doesn’t seem like enough, but we want them to know that their commitment and dedication are remarkable and appreciated.”
ETFO represents 83,000 elementary public school teachers, occasional teachers and education professionals across the province. Its Building Better Schools education agenda can be viewed at BuildingBetterSchools.ca.
For more information, contact Carla Pereira, ETFO Media Relations, at 416-576-9074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.