By MPP Toby Barrett
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on many aspects of our lives for over two years. Ontario’s students are some of the most impacted by the virus, which has seen schools shuttered for extended periods. To get Ontario students back on track Ontario has released its Learning Recovery Action Plan.
Ontario is in the midst of creating world-class, modern, safe and student-centered learning environments for the next year and beyond. Over the past three years, the Ministry of Education has modernized education to respond to the changing needs of employers and the needs of students in education and career planning.
Every student must be supported to unlock their full potential in a rapidly changing world so they may develop the skills they need to succeed in any pathway they choose. One of our priorities is to prepare Ontario students for success by improving their academic achievement while equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need for success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Building upon accomplishments since 2018, the Ontario Learning Recovery Action Plan will focus on strengthening reading and math skills as well as mental health promotion.
The plan will include the largest publicly funded tutoring program ever in Canada. A $176 million province-wide tutoring program will begin in April 2022 and run until the end of December. These funds will allow for small group learning after school, on weekends and over the summer and will be available to students from kindergarten to Grade 12. Ultimately, tutoring will allow students who have fallen behind, or who want to continue to work ahead, the ability to do so.
Another $15 million will expand summer learning opportunities as well as expanded teacher-led online tutoring in English or French.
Mental health remains a concern as students have wrestled with lockdowns therefore we are investing more than $90 million – 402 per cent more than in 2017-18 — into supports as well as Ontario’s first-integrated Student Mental Health Strategy. This is in addition to $26.17 million to renew 625 school-based public health nurses – the largest nurse allocation supporting schools in the history of the province.
Teachers’ unions have long claimed larger class sizes impede student achievement. As well, the previous government was allowed to close small schools. The Class Size Regulation sets out class size requirements for all grades; it is the responsibility of the school board to make the appropriate staffing decisions to meet these standards and to organize classes accordingly. However, as part of the historic investment of over $26.6 billion in 2022-2023, the government is investing $304 million in time-limited additional staffing supports, to continue to hire an estimated 3,000 front line staff, which include teachers, early childhood educators, educational assistants and other education workers.
In order to respond both now and in the future to learning disruption caused by the pandemic, the Ministry of Education will assess both the impact of the pandemic on Ontario students and the results of the Ministry’s efforts on an on-going basis. School boards will also be required to report to the Ministry on outcomes of this Learning Recovery Action Plan.
Ontario is investing unprecedented monies to get students back on track – learning, growing, and thriving in a normal classroom enriched by clubs, sports and expanded tutoring and mental health supports.
Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk