Education provides knowledge, power, perspective, and skill, which acts as a backbone for personal, societal, and national growth. In Canada, our public school system provides universal access to free schooling, guaranteeing equal opportunity for all children, and unifying an ever changing, diverse population. Having a well-rounded education prepares citizens to become economically self sufficient and pushes them to pursue their passions and play a strong role in a continuously progressing society. Because of this, when the provincial government of Ontario announced major changes and cuts to the education system, many people were rightfully furious.
What You Need to Know
On March 15, 2019, Lisa Thompson, Minister of Education, announced the changes and cuts being made to the Ontario education system.
According to Thompson, these changes are crucial for creating a better, more financially and educationally effective learning environment for all. During her announcement, she talked about the new strategies for the math curriculum, the relatively unchanging elementary class sizes, and the positive additions to the sex-ed curriculum. However, the harsh bottom line is almost $1 billion dollars is being cut from the provincial education budget, and that will not create a better education for anyone.
Kindergarten to grade 3 will not see any class size changes, and grades 4-8 will see an increase of 1 student. High school students will see the biggest class size change, with the class size requirement average changing from 22 to 28 students. Thompson states that our student-to-teacher ratio is one of the lowest in the country and that the change will be phased out over 4 years. Nevertheless, larger class sizes are detrimental to a student’s learning experience and course success. As classes become more difficult, many students rely on one-on-one help from a teacher to clarify concepts and get continuous feedback and support on projects and assessments. Larger class sizes, for many schools, also means overpopulated classrooms. Many students and teachers across the province have the expressed concerns about physical classrooms being a tight fit on the current class average, considering the average is 22 students, yet classes tend to consist of 25-30 kids. Increasing the average class size to 28, teachers could expect up to 38 students, which may be nearly impossible. Crowded rooms also tend to be noisier and more stressful, and will force teachers to convert from interactive and engaging lesson styles to lectures.
The Ontario government is also stating that starting in the 2020-2021 school year, every high school student will be required to earn one online credit each year, as a requirement for graduation. Sufficient information on the plan to incorporate this is still to come, as many obvious barriers exist for low income families, schools that lack technology, and students who have a learning disability or simply do not learn well without hands on, teacher interaction. Cell phones will also be banned starting this fall, yet little detail on how this will be provincially enforced. To many, this ban is insulting to the systems already put in place at a school board level, and to the teacher’s discretion, who knows how vital cell phone use can be in the classroom.
From the almost $1 billion dollars being cut to education, $25 million of those cuts are being made to specialized programs in elementary and secondary schools across the province. The fund for these programs will now be $400 million, forcing specialized teaching positions, tutors, and programs for marginalized kids to be cut. Positions like TOSA (teachers on special assignment), which provide teachers and students with support on specialized needs like behaviour, vision, and hearing, and academic coaches, who help with course specific support, are being cut. There are 72 different school boards in the province, which provide a variety of programs, making it difficult to know what program cuts will occur where.
OSAP cuts were also announced, affecting thousands of families and students seeking financial support through university and college pathways. These new cuts eliminate the fully covered tuition put in place by the Liberals for families earning less than $50,000. A six-month interest-free grace period will be eliminated, leaving new graduates with loans beginning to accrue interest upon the completion of their program. This is a major concern for students who are currently relying on the necessary time to establish a job without the mental strain of immediate debt.
Statements continue to be released by the Conservative government on the exact budget and dates for the implementation of these plans, as well as many others. It is important to keep yourself informed. As a fairly independent student myself, who is almost done high school, with no special needs, and is financially stable, many of these changes do not strongly affect me. Having said that, my circumstances are not representative of the Ontario student body, and I stand in solidarity with those who are going to face immense repercussions if these changes are implemented. We cannot stop the conversation of education. Students are the future, and we need crucial supports, such as a strong education system, to get us there.