Education overhaul can’t remove resources from classrooms

On Friday, the provincial government announced a series of proposed changes to Ontario’s education system. One of the tenets of the change was a welcomed return to teaching the basic fundamentals of math. Those remembering word problems they were taught in school — both in newer curricula and old — know some of those equations can be interpreted in a number of ways and lead to a variety of answers that students claim are correct.

Grading the government’s homework assignment might be a process of finding out the problem-solving steps applied by the Ministry of Education and judging whether  they ultimately pointed toward a better school system. One might also ask what they were trying to achieve.

Keeping class size caps on Kindergarten and primary students is important for those vital learning years. A move away from those hard caps in intermediate and secondary grades might provide a bit more flexibility to avoid  split classes with shared teacher time.

On the other hand, it could also be seen as strictly a cost-saving measure, one that teachers’ unions have suggested would impact jobs, lessen students’ ability to receive one-on-one direction from a teacher, and perhaps create distracting or unsafe learning spaces. While economically it might make sense to match class sizes elsewhere in Canada, in practice, more direct access to teachers and resource workers is good for education. Cuts shouldn’t take place in the classrooms. It may be worthwhile to have a discussion about funding alternative ways to fund and provide student supports to take pressure off teachers with larger class sizes, but that investment shouldn’t go away.

There has also been public criticism of a plan for each secondary school student in the province to take four online courses, starting in 2021-2022. In theory, there is a lot to like about the proposal. It will prepare students for an experience many of them would have in a college or university setting where they’re in a large lecture with hundreds of other students and have little direct interaction with professors or peers. Depending how the course is offered, it might also foster time management skills and discipline, which are so valued in the adult world, as well as digital literacy. Again, though, there’s value in having accessible trained people to go to for comprehension questions and for marking. There’s use for local discussion groups to allow students to engage in their material. The bottom line is that vision can’t be a mere cost-savings tool if students are going to succeed.

The most important element of problem solving to help Ontario students is ensuring that dollars are spent in an efficient manner in the classroom, offering students the necessary resources to learn. That includes allowances for experiential learning and for special education. Those efficiencies, then, have to come from elsewhere in the system.  Perhaps, it is time for the Province to examine whether it needs separate school systems with duplicate administration or bricks and mortar, or whether the aspects that make those systems unique can be melded into one public system through immersion. It could save on operating overhead and transportation. It may also be time, particularly in rural areas, that mandatory co-locating other community services in unused space is explored as a win-win scenario for students. There’s much more homework ahead and, hopefully, it will produce consensus on the correct answers for ongoing student success.

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