Consultation continues to direct education policy

By MPP Toby Barrett

Last fall, the Ontario Government took immediate steps to initiate a broad-ranging curriculum consultation of which all Ontarians had the opportunity to take part.   Consultations ran from September to December 2018.

Over 72,000 submissions were received from parents, students, educators, employers, and organizations. This was the largest education consultation in Ontario’s history.

In fact, the number of engagements in these consultations increased 11-fold compared with that of the previous 2014 curriculum consultation.

The majority of respondents felt that the current education system is doing a poor or very poor job of teaching financial literacy and expressed support for experiential learning to improve job skills and student performance in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

Respondents also expressed support for some form of restriction on cellphones in schools; that it is important that parents play an active role in the education system and have open communication with schools and boards; and that the Health and Physical Education curriculum address topics in an age-appropriate manner.

Most recently, in March 2019, the province released two consultation guides on class sizes in Grades 1 to 12 as well as on hiring practices.  The prior consultations, as well as for the most recent round of consultations, will help shape the government’s plan for education.

The government agrees with its sector partners that it is important to protect class sizes in the early grades.  This is why the province’s education plan keeps hard class size caps in place from kindergarten to Grade 3.

For older students, the proposal is to require all school boards to maintain an average class size of 24.5 in Grades 4 to 8, representing an average increase of one student per class.

For the oldest students in Grades 9 to 12, the plan would require school boards to maintain average class sizes of 28.  This aligns with the class size requirements in other Canadian provinces. 

The objective is to work with education partners to improve teacher mobility while increasing transparency, fairness, consistency and accountability in teacher hiring across all school boards.  Ontario’s students deserve the best teacher available in each and every classroom, and principals should be empowered to hire teachers based on merit ensuring that teaching positions are filled by the right candidate.

The Province of Ontario is consulting with education stakeholders, including its labour partners, on this proposed plan.  These consultations will close at the end of May 2019. Consultations and conversations are open and transparent within this formal process, and additional input can be sent directly to the President of the Treasury Board.

Ontario is moving forward with an education curriculum that respects the wishes of parents while teaching students the skills they need to find rewarding careers in the modern economy. The government is also challenging the province’s schools and school boards to focus resources on the needs of students.

Ontario is strengthening its world-class education system to emphasize math, science and financial literacy as well as the skilled trades.   We must ensure that the needs, interests and strengths of all students are fulfilled to successfully prepare them for graduation and beyond.

The vision is one of getting back to basics, respecting parents, and working with teachers to ensure children have the skills they need to succeed within an education system that is truly built for families.

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk