In a plan called “Education that Works for You”, that was unveiled on March 15, the Ontario government outlined three major goals: modernizing classrooms, modernizing learning and modernizing health and physical education. But this will also include making “sustainable” cuts to grants for Student Needs, which covers costs for things like classroom supplies and Indigenous language programs, as well as increasing class sizes and decreasing the number of teachers, among other changes.
This week, we take a closer look at the proposed cuts students and teachers are protesting against. We asked Christine Corso, research manager from People for Education, about the impact on the system.
Milénio Stadium: How will the cuts in education being made by the government in Ontario impact teachers and students?
Christine Corso: We definitely have budget cuts in education and that’s something that people have been talking a lot about. One of the biggest areas that we see budget cuts is in teachers. There is a ratio that says how many students, on average, should be in each class, and in elementary schools it’s staying largely the same – so our class sizes aren’t going to change very much from last year – but in in high schools and in kindergarten we’re going to see a lower ratio of early childhood educators in classrooms. In high schools, we are going to see class sizes change from 22 to 28 students, on average, per class. That means we’re going to have thousands less teachers in Ontario serving the same population of students. It’s kind of a big change and it means it’s going to impact our high school students the most. There are some specialty classes that have highly specialized equipment that needs closer supervision or classes that serve students with special needs that tend to be smaller, so those smaller classes have to be balanced out. We also might see that there’s fewer specialized courses being offered at all. Some students in Mississauga heard, in the spring, that they have to re-select all of their courses for this year coming up, because they were not going to be able to offer some specialized social studies courses, as they no longer had teachers enough.
MS: Should parents be concerned with these changes during this year?
CC: I would say that parents and students probably know what they’re in for this year. As school is coming up, students might be getting their timetable soon. But this is more of a long term kind of worry that we’ve got over here. In today’s world we know that students need to be prepared for all sorts of different features that are going to come up and we don’t know what the world of work is going to look like when they graduate. We don’t know what the social world is going to look like when they graduate, but we know that it’s important that students develop the skills and competencies that they will need to succeed. Offering diverse courses for students so that they can tailor their educational experience is the best way that we can meet those needs. It is a little bit worrying too to dial back the course selection because right now we can’t say for sure what jobs we need to be prepared for in the future.
MS: On March 15th, the Minister of Education said he is “modernizing the curriculum, going back to the basics”. Is this a way of modernizing?
CC: Yes, the minister announced that they were going to go back to basics and People For Education feels that what we need to be doing is really reestablishing what are the new basics. You know, what the old basics used to be was reading and writing, math… but we established that as a society that was hundreds of years ago. The new basics are things like thinking creatively and critically, communicating effectively, collaborating with others, learning how to learn for yourself. All students are going to need to learn how to do these competencies and skills in order to succeed. So, it doesn’t feel like a time to go back to an old way of doing things, when our world is changing so rapidly.
MS: What is your advice for teachers and parents on how to face these cuts and changes in the system?
CC: I think it’s important to be aware of what is actually changing. Sometimes there’s a lot of information in the media that doesn’t necessarily mean that a change has happened yet. So, keeping aware through the news in the Ontario newsroom, as well as through our list that we keep up to date. And then, if there’s something that you know that affects you, you can talk to your MPP about it. Also be involved in the conversation, whether it’s through our website, or on Twitter. Knowing what’s happening in the schools that you are attending, if you’re a student or that your kids are attending. Just keeping aware of what’s going on is an important way to stay engaged as a citizen. For those who would like to have more information we have a Twitter, we have a newsletter that goes out to people through email and you can sign up for that on our website. We’re also non-profit, so a lot of our funds come from donations from individuals in the community, so if you’d like to support the work that we’re doing you can check out on our website, checking out the reports and research that we’re doing. That’s the best way to keep in touch.