Children deserve an education system that is first rate

By MPP Toby Barrett

As a former teacher, I was thrilled this winter to meet local resident and inspirational educator Vera Good. Dr. Good, at age 103, can look back on a career in a one-room school, as the Ontario Ministry of Education’s first female inspector and, as the original producer of Television Ontario’s Polka Dot Door.

Through the work of Dr. Good, and many others, including another former local resident, Egerton Ryerson, schooling in Ontario remains the great equalizer.

Education allows every child – irrespective of circumstance or background – to dare to dream. Parents know a strong public education system can be key to their children’s future.

However, Ontario’s education system leaves room for improvement.

For too many years, Haldimand and Norfolk have seen schools shut down without proper consultation with parents, municipalities and local businesses. As Opposition, we’ve been saying for months we will impose a moratorium on all school closures until we see a reform of the Pupil Accommodation Review Guideline.

A CIBC report found 82 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34 feel they lack financial knowledge and investing confidence. A strong case can be made to significantly expand financial literacy programs in our secondary schools – an assertion proposed to me several times during meetings in my constituency office.

Only 50 per cent of Grade Six students met the provincial math standard in 2016. We need to ensure our education professionals and schools have the tools they need to meet evolving educational needs and produce better results. One of the ways Ontario’s school system can create more skilled math teachers is by requiring every teacher’s college course in the province contain a math component. As Opposition, we advocate school boards and teachers set aside one professional development day per year for updating teacher math skills.

We advocate the province appoint a group of former teaching professionals so we can learn from the best in the province in each subject discipline. Teachers should be consulted and their methods observed to form the basis for future updates to school curriculum.

Keeping children safe should also be top priority. A while back, my colleague MPP Rick Nicholls introduced legislation to crack down on drivers who pass stopped school busses. As he argued, why not make exterior school bus camera systems mandatory to prevent drivers from illegally driving by stopped and signalling school buses. The cost of the equipment could be recouped from the fines levied.

In Ontario some school boards have refused to allow children with autism to bring service animals, such as service dogs, to school. Amending the current Blind Persons’ Rights Act to allow people with autism or other disabilities to bring their service animals to schools and other public places is the right thing to do.

I have had a number of meetings with teacher groups reporting an increase in violence in the classroom. School boards should not be allowed to take money out of programs for students facing serious behavioural issues. As Opposition, we propose to ensure special education funding to school boards be actually spent on special education services.

Parents expect and deserve a first rate education for their children. Time is wasting.

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk