On March 15, the Ontario government unveiled the “Education that Works for You” plan which brings several major changes to the Ontario education system. This plan has been met with much criticism across the board, triggering province-wide school walkouts in protest of the resulting budget cuts in April. As the new school year approaches, it is now a good time to revisit what the plan entails, what it really means for students, and what you can do as parents to help your children adapt to the imminent changes.
The plan at a glance
According to the Ministry of Education, the “Education that Works for You” plan is composed of the following focus areas:
- Modern Classrooms
- Expanding broadband network across Ontario schools
- Introducing mandatory high school e-learning
- Banning student use of cell phones at school
- Increasing grade 4 to 12 class sizes
- Modernizing EQAO and improving teacher hiring practices
- Implementing various budgetary changes
- Modern Learning
- Reverting the math curriculum back to fundamentals from Discovery Math
- Revising career studies and business/technology courses in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), skilled trades, and financial literacy Revising the Indigenous Education curriculum for greater awareness and relevance
- Introducing a new digital platform for stakeholders to access the curriculum and interact with each other
- Health and Physical Education
- Revising the primary (grade 1 – 3), junior (grade 4 – 6), and intermediate (grade 7 – 8) curriculum to include more modern concepts in mental health, substance use, sex education, and other social behaviors.
- Mandating opt-out policies and resources for self-teaching to parents
While there are welcoming changes that would better prepare students for the ever-changing future, many stakeholders are concerned about its execution amid significant budget cuts and class size increases.
The 3 most significant changes
Much criticism of the “Education that Works for You” plan surrounds the new education funding policy and teachers’ ability to deliver world-class education with diminished support from Ontario government. We asked our on-staff Ontario Certified Teachers (OCT) to weigh in on the matter and here is a summary of what they think of the most significant of the changes.
Class size increases
The proposed class size increase is undeniably the most controversial of all changes. For grade 4 to 8, the average class size will increase from 23.84 to 24.5. While the increase may not seem significant (some may say it’s not even an increase of 1!), People for Education estimates an elimination of 1000 funded teacher positions in Ontario resulting from this change alone.
The class size change for grade 9 to 12 is even more adverse, with an increase from 22 to 28. This represents an estimated 6000 funded high school teacher position cuts in Ontario. Consequently, high school students will find it increasingly difficult to seek guidance from teachers in the senior years, which are crucial to choosing and working towards their post-secondary pathways. Moreover, fewer teachers would lead to reduced course choices as resources are focused on core subjects, which robs students the opportunities to explore their interests.
While the Ontario government promises no immediate laid-offs as teacher positions will instead be phased out towards their retirements, many school boards are already anticipating insufficient government top-up fund to cover the class size differences. Sadly, teachers and students will feel the pressure in the coming school year.
Mandatory e-learning in high school
Starting in 2019 – 2020 school year, high school students will be required to take at least 4 out of 30 mandatory credits in an online course as Ontario expands its e-learning initiative. While e-learning has emerged as a viable alternative with its merits, here are some reasons why it may not work in practice:
- Online learning lacks the social interactions provided in traditional classroom settings. In fact, on-the-spot teaching adjustments, emotional and real-time support can be offered only if human interaction is present.
- Students need to build an aptitude for online learning, which could be a challenge for some. Students must possess good displicine, motivation, time management, and other fundamental skills to thrive in an online learning environment.
- Some students may not have a computer or broadband internet access to support e-learning at home.
As it stands, e-learning is a niche alternative that may work well for some (for example, remote learners and fast-tracking students), but it is uncertain how well this initiative will scale and how well online classes can be delivered.
Educators also argue that e-learning will further reduce funding for hiring teachers, which will further compromise the quality of education in Ontario. Again, People for Education estimates a reduction of funding towards 490 high school teachers with this move towards e-learning.
In light of declining Ontario math results in recent years, the Ontario government hopes to turn around the situation by changing the math curriculum from Discovery Math back to the basic, fundamental methods. Proponents on both sides engage in yet another fierce debate on which method is best, but teachers mostly agree that regardless of teaching method, what matters most is the ability to deliver the lessons with enough flexibility and resources. Only time will tell whether swinging from one method to another, amid diminishing support for teachers, would help Ontario students achieve higher grades in math.
Meanwhile, a more focused curriculum on STEM, skilled trades, and financial literacy is much welcomed in strengthening student’s ability to cope with life past secondary education. Students would hopefully gain insight on future job market trends and be able to make a more informed choice about their post-secondary studies and career paths. Learning how to better manage their finance would also help them to plan for the future, especially when it comes to housing.
Again, this all depends on schools’ ability to execute these plans while having to balance a reduced budget.
How parents can help
As the new plan unfolds, parents can expect less support for their children at school even when Ontario has some of the best and most passionate educators. That being said, there are also many things you can do to support your children and have your voice heard for better education:
- Get involved in your local school board’s Parent Involvement Committee (PIC), a government-mandated body that promotes parental engagement. Parents can be involved at different levels of commitment, from attending meetings and learning about ways to support their children at school, to volunteering at school and becoming an official member.
- Learn more about the inner-workings of the Ontario education system from the perspective of teachers and school boards.
- Seek supplemental support for your children such as finding a tutor. There are many tutoring models that fit a variety of needs and budgets. At TeachRequest, we offer one-to-one private tutoring which focuses on your child’s individual needs.
All of us play a part in ensuring the prosperity of the future generation. As the saying goes – knowledge is power – and the more we are informed about how education is delivered at school, the better we can steer the Ontario education system in the right direction.
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