Authored by Mary Spring, Terri Howell, and Susan Lovell
We, three retired rural teachers, are afraid of the direction the Ford government is taking education. Despite the fact that our education minister, Lisa Thompson, lives rurally, we do not believe she fully understands the challenges of going to school in small communities. We challenge the minister to think beyond big-city schools.
We met with Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller to express our concerns. This is what we discussed:
1. A better place to find savings would be in the elimination of two publically funded school boards.
Only three provinces in Canada fund Catholic schools — Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta. British Columbia funds many denominations, but to a lesser degree than the public system.
There is public support to discontinue the public funding to Catholic schools. A Forum Research poll in July 2015 found that 51 per cent of respondents disagreed with public funding for Catholic schools; 38 per cent favoured it.
A March 2012 report by the Federation of Urban Neighbourhoods suggests the savings, if Ontario funded just one public education system, could range between $1.3 billion and $1.6 billion.
Saskatchewan Justice Donald Layh ruled in April 2017 that Saskatchewan’s funding of “non-minority faith students” to attend Catholic schools was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the “state’s duty of religious neutrality.” The ruling is under appeal. Ontario is an inclusive province. It can’t be deemed inclusive when one religion receives special treatment.
The British North America Act can be changed. Amendments and repeals to the act were made in the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Protecting the Catholic system also supports discrimination, as it gives the Catholic boards the right to hire only Catholic teachers. When the country was formed, the Catholic schools had their place in the formation of the country, but they have outlived their relevance in a country now boasting inclusion of all peoples of every faith, culture, colour of their skin, and sexual orientation.
This “cut” would not impact the students nor would one be able to argue that the impact was any different in a smaller more rural community than in larger communities.
Why the hesitation?
Note from meeting: Norm Miller says he supports one publically funded school system.
2. EQAO standardized testing is ineffective and should be eliminated.
EQAO is very expensive, costing millions each year to administer and mark. Despite the use of this data to try to change student outcomes, we question its validity. We believe that it should be cancelled in order to save money or changed in some way.
The Ontario government has hired an individual to “oversee” EQAO and school boards hire people to “prepare” children for the test. The test uses up a great deal of teaching time, especially in April and May. EQAO causes stress for teachers and students.
Teachers must be trusted to assess students throughout the school year using a variety of methods. One alternative to current EQAO testing would be to choose a selection of schools throughout the province at different times to perform such an assessment.
3. Requirement for larger class sizes in high schools will have a greater impact on rural schools.
Note from meeting: Norm Miller stated that Ontario’s current average class size is the lowest in Canada. Many provinces, he quotes, have a higher class-size average.
Our research states otherwise. According to 2017 data, as well as current data (2019 Alberta), this is false. Most other provinces do not talk class averages, but instead, caps.
There is a big difference between a “cap” and an “average”. An average is calculated per school and necessitates that some classes will be much greater than the average to accommodate smaller classes and maintain the average. This means a compulsory course like English could have 40 kids so a religion class could have 12. A cap allows smaller classes to exist while not allowing the number of students in that same English class to exceed the cap.
Ontario: currently board-wide averages are 26 but will increase to 28 in September
BC: capped at 30
Alberta: currently capped at 22. Goal for 2021 is capped at 18.
Saskatchewan: no caps, no averages
Quebec: “hard cap” at 32
Newfoundland and Labrador: 33 capped
New Brunswick: capped at 29
PEI: capped at 30
Nova Scotia: elementary data. Currently targeted size is 27, cannot go above 27 for grade 3-6
Because our three high schools in Muskoka are smaller, some very important trade-based courses that help to keep students engaged and in school may be cut. With a limit to the number of credits in the trades that schools will offer, students seeking these related courses may not be able to accumulate enough credits to graduate. This, we believe, will lead to an increase in drop-out rates.
Smaller schools with a less-diverse population (fewer university-bound students) will have to cut their advanced-level STEM classes such as Grade 12 physics because of low numbers. This puts rural Ontario at a disadvantage.
Remember that students with no access to public transportation can’t access elective, science, and tech courses that aren’t offered at their school. The proposed “average” class size wouldn’t allow schools with small student populations to run electives with small numbers
Education Minister Thompson said that larger class sizes in high schools will make students more “resilient” and will better prepare them for larger university classes as well as the work force.
Our job as educators is not to prepare students for work. It is to teach and to provide opportunities that are developmentally appropriate for their age. Young high school students are not driven to career choices, as perhaps 19-year-olds are. They need to be in smaller classes with an experienced teacher who can meet their learning and social needs. How does a class of 28 students prepare a 14-year-old for a workplace that is likely to be quite small? According to current (2019) statistics, 18 per cent of people living in Muskoka are self-employed and 83 per cent of businesses employ less than five people.
4. Rural students living north of Highway 7 will be at a disadvantage if required to take online courses each year.
We do not believe the decision to move toward online courses is based in evidence, but beyond that argument here are the realities of internet services in rural Ontario, particularly Muskoka.
Many parents already complain that their children are not able to access materials teachers put onto Google Docs and Google Classroom. In many areas, homes rely on towers and towers do not broadcast well in uneven terrain; when the weather is bad there are many interruptions. Upload and download speeds are unreliable. Working on a deadline to submit assignments would be most frustrating. The present costs to upgrade rural access to internet are very pricey and not within reach of many families in Muskoka.
There are other disadvantages to online learning:
- The format isn’t ideal for all learners. Students who have problems with motivation or procrastination, have bad study habits, or who need lots of individual attention from an instructor may fall behind or become frustrated and give up.
- It requires adaptability to new technologies. Those who don’t love working with technology will probably get a lot less out of an online course than their more tech-savvy counterparts. For some students these skills also need to be taught and addressed.
- Without the routine structures of a traditional class, students may get lost or confused about course activities and deadlines
- Students may feel isolated from the instructor and classmates
- An instructor may not always be available when students are studying or need help
- Managing computer files and online learning software can sometimes seem complex for students with beginner-level computer skills
- Hands-on or lab work is difficult to simulate in a virtual classroom
- Mental health has become a major challenge for students today. They are increasingly isolated by their use of the technology that has infiltrated their lives. Taking online courses will feed into this isolation and lack of connection to an instructor or other students. This is a huge concern. Developmentally high school students need a variety of social outlets and peer to peer contact for positive mental health. They need less technology not more!
5. Younger teachers who have relocated to the Huntsville area (adding a positive growth to the economy of a small town) will be receiving pink slips.
In a large board like Trillium Lakelands teachers from other municipalities that have more seniority will be transferred to those positions, if they are not lost entirely. This will impact after-school programs since teachers driving over 50 km a day to get to work will likely not be willing to volunteer time to extracurricular activities.
Note from meeting: Norm Miller assures us that no teachers will lose their jobs as a result of these cuts. This, we believe, is not true.
We are also concerned about proposed changes to the two-year kindergarten program. An ECE program is one to two years of study while a kindergarten teacher in Ontario has six years of study plus additional qualifications in kindergarten pedagogy. These years are considered foundation years and require a skilled teacher who can plan and implement an age-appropriate, play-based kindergarten program. This highlights the teaching of math and reading/writing concepts. ECE graduates do not have this background.
Mary Spring, Terri Howell, and Susan Lovell are retired teachers.
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