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'One of the changes makes no sense at all'
Posted April 8, 2019
When I heard Doug Ford state, "We will not tolerate anybody using our children as pawns for grandstanding and political games," I wondered who he was talking about.
I think back to how Doug Ford ended up being the leader of the PC party in the first place. After the social conservative, Charles McVety inserted his stalking horse, Tania Granic Allen into the leadership contest, Ford pledged to eliminate Ontario's sex-ed curriculum. Social conservatives rewarded him with their votes. I guess it's ok for Doug Ford to use Ontario's children as pawns in a political game.
Now the PC government has announced massive changes to our education system. The Education ministry released a memo revealing its plans to eliminate 3,475 teaching jobs over the next 4 years to save $851 million. It will accomplish this goal by increasing class sizes in elementary and secondary schools from an average of 22 students per class to an average of 28 students per class.
An average of 28 students means that in order to run special classes with fewer, high needs students, regular classes can expect to cram 40 or more students in a classroom. The math breaks down to a loss of six course choices disappearing for every teacher eliminated from the system. Core subjects such as English and Math are the courses that will have to deal with huge class sizes. Elective courses in the arts, music and technology which typically have lower enrolment numbers are in danger of being eliminated altogether. Students will have fewer choices.
Looking at my crystal ball, I suspect that extracurricular activities will see a decline as well, as overworked and exhausted teachers no longer have the time or can summon up the energy to offer these activities. For many students, it is these extracurricular activities as well as elective courses in the arts and technology that keep them in school. Ontario boasts one of the highest success rates in the country for high school graduation numbers. Fifteen years ago 40 per cent of our students did not graduate. Today, 80 per cent of our students proudly cross the floor to accept their high school diploma at commencement. That's going to change.
One of the changes makes no sense at all. High school students will now have to complete four e-learning courses to earn their high school diploma. I actually taught a few e-learning courses. It is not for everyone. Students who sign up must be independent learners with a high degree of self-discipline. They must be self-starters, self-motivating. Only top students fit that description. What will happen to the rest of our kids? Assuming that everyone has a computer, students in rural areas often face limited internet access.
Ontario rates in the top five in all international testing for math, science and reading, right up there with Singapore, South Korea, Finland and Norway. Our ranking in the top tier of international tests has been consistent since 2010. Canada has been described by international observers as an "education superpower." Canada, and especially Ontario have become magnets for foreign investments because we can offer an educated workforce that is tops in the world.
All of these accomplishments are now threatened by Doug Ford's government. Students are being set up for failure all so Ford can find his "efficiencies." His government boasts of having conducted the "largest consultation ever in Ontario's history." Did any of the survey questions parents could submit ask whether they think an increase in class sizes would help their kids learn better? The high-needs kids, the ones who love to draw, the kids who are keen about how tools work, the ones who look forward to the next basketball season in school, the kids who must have the structure of a physical classroom with a caring and highly competent teacher, those are the kids who will fall by the wayside.
I urge all parents and citizens to stand with our students and their teachers to preserve and defend our public education system. This is too important for partisan loyalty.
Ford's attack on unions in an effort to shape public opinion shows us who is really guilty of using our children as pawns to grandstand and play political games. As one of the student organizers said at last Saturday's rally, "Mr. Ford, if you think we students are pawns, let's play chess."
Barbara Delargy is a retired English teacher currently living near Everett. Reach her at email@example.com